Sunday, May 20, 2012

Wow, would you look at that.

It has been a LONG goddamn time since I posted anything. This is a sort of mediocre, sort of strange story that I wrote because I felt like I was going to lose it if I didn't write SOMETHING. I don't know if I'd call this "depressing" or "cute" or what, but at least--unlike most of my writings--no one dies.

Ladies and gentlemen--the entire zero of you who read this blog--I present my first "full" (if you choose to apply that label to it; I wouldn't, necessarily) writing in almost half a year.


"I think that every day, no matter where you are--unless you're in the middle of nowhere, I guess--you meet someone who says something--who says some variant of, 'I've lived here all my life.'" The man (who was really just playing at being a man, the struggling hairs poking out unevenly over his face) speaking flicked a gnat off of his arm thoughtfully and sighed into the chilly spring air. It was nearing dusk, now, and the figures of the man and his companion were beginning the slow march towards blending in with everything, if not saved by their obvious height; they were, after all, standing in an open field. White tarps covered bales of hay and loomed eerily throughout the space as the colors, though still stark, grayed.

"Eh," his companion snorted. She was surveying the quickly fading horizon and his voice had scarcely registered to her. Her long, gangly limbs had earned her the nickname "Stork" years ago, and--as she herself hadn't moved from home--it had followed her as she stood resolutely still. Her companion was hardly offended, being well familiar with her offish manner.

"Seriously, no matter where I've been. You always hear it, man. People telling you they've always lived somewhere." He mused quietly for a moment. Stork drew a cigarette to her lips with long, even fingers. The smoke began to curl upward, untraceable by either set of eyes, as he continued, "But what's most interesting is that some people say it with pride. I feel like--maybe it's just me--I feel like I'd be ashamed of that, you know?" A gnarled, brown-gray fence post supported him by his surprisingly well-muscled arm. An instant, and he considered his company, eyeing her awkwardly for the first time in several minutes. It felt, to him, like remembering something long forgotten: the very mild shock was much the same as he waited for a reaction to his clumsy words. Unsurprisingly, considering that it was Stork, none came.

His chest expanded and released as he felt a tiny growth of relief. Another moment and he was convinced that Stork would continue to not react to anything--she never did--and that further discussion was warranted. This time, he dared ask his companion a direct question: "Stork, you feel ashamed of it?"

"Living here?" came her reply, always more quickly than he ever guessed. This fact always stilted the conversations. Stork never minded--or maybe she didn't give a fuck. That seemed likely. He watched her with a sense of anxiety that he didn't care for as she took her time--she always did--rolling the question around in her mind. Finally--"Eh." She took a deep drag, her long, straight hair (did she straighten it? He didn't think she would really be that vain, to take all the time to straighten all that hair every day, and he never saw a hint of curl) falling towards her waist, wispy near the ends. The lack of real emphatic reply hung much heavier than her actual response in the darkening air, and one of the two struggled with its weight for several moments before, again, remembering his present company.

He dropped it and it fluttered into the night on a current of strong-smelling tobacco smoke.

Many more minutes fell into the field before their eyes. He was bored, but didn't want to show it; Stork seemed perfectly content, chain-smoking and breathing in the sullied air. Looking down, he could see that the hem of her cheap blue jeans were muddied from the short walk out to the fields. Somewhere, in one of the surrounding pastures, a cow bayed threateningly.

"Joshua. Boy," Stork finally said, the words even and clean and smooth despite the amount of smoking she'd just done, "I'm ready to head back." He nodded and they turned and walked without any further exchange.

Sometimes, Stork frustrated him. Alternately, and fairly regularly (enough to sustain the odd kind of friendship they had), she amused him in the most confusing way. The way she insisted on calling everyone by his full name was sometimes an endearing quirk, but tonight it was largely annoying. Josh found himself unable to stop the frustration he felt from burgeoning, becomingly stupidly, disproportionately strong, and he almost seized Stork by her stupid thin wrist and said, "Would you fucking cut that out." But that would have been childish, and Josh instead pressed his hands resolutely to his sides as Stork swaggered ahead of him, her limbs thin and her body small. She night made her look even more like a fairy than usual, with her tiny build glowing in the hushed grays that cooled everything around them. She looked so fragile.

"Hey," he said hoarsely, trying to recant the unexpected syllable even as it left his thin lips. Though he regretted shattering the perfect silence that she seemed to so revel in, and wished automatically for her not to have heard the desperate cry for her attentions, he was even more ashamed that she did not acknowledge him, that she continued to stride unbroken and graceful before his anxious eyes. For several seconds, the much more firmly-built being of the two (the only one, really, who seemed more than a phantom in that field that night) paused and breathed and grew upset before, finally, his lips birthed another syllable, fresh and dripping with the pain of his affections: "Stork."

As though he had summoned her she turned, graceful and with eyes glowing gray, her hair oddly still and also flowing, a constant stream over her smallness. Even then she failed to address him at all but with her eyes, and her body towards him not even wholly (a fact that killed him so immensely, for so small an infraction). He imagined her eyebrows, flat and uninterested in anything but returning home. He faced her, ashamed, and breathed in. Graciously, she did not prompt him for explanation, but--sensing in the way that the opportunistic smoker will that the pause would be lengthy--called another cigarette forth from her bag in her fingers. A small flash of light that briefly illuminated her sharp features (smudged eye makeup) lit the end, which smoldered vaguely in Josh's peripheral vision as he looked directly into her veiled eyes.

A pause grew, bloated and wilted before them, and he sensed his timing falling from his grip. Having so little control frustrated him. He didn't understand how to achieve her gorgeously pregnant spaces, the places that sat between her words and created expectation; yet Stork was universally acknowledged to be painfully awkward. His own admiration for her conversational skills surprised him, struck him as ridiculous. Angrily he tried to slash them down, but became again aware of her attention still (strangely) on him.

His breaths came deep, in long sighs that promised and ultimately hid unspoken words. The secrets being revealed grew deeper with each sharp intake--whatever it was seemed now impossible to say, a serious and deep thing. Expectation had been created, yes, but it was of the wrong sort. He flushed to realize that Stork was possibly growing concerned. That was something unreachable, an achievement too high for any man, and the attention drove him into an ecstatic bout of testing her limits, of continuing to not speak.

Finally, Stork sighed deeply as well, and flicked the butt of her now-finished cigarette (quickly smoked, to be sure) somewhere in the dampened grasses of the field about them. He expected nothing and got, instead, a simple question: "Wanna come over, Joshua?"

The perfect blend of casual ("Wanna") and stupidly formal (that fucking habit, goddamnit Stork) made him want to reach again for her--would you fucking--goddamnit--Stork, goddamnit--but he didn't. His hands moved to her face and she responded with a chilly stare before turning her face away. She breathed out onto his suddenly-near-hers face and it smelled stale--cigarettes, drying her sweet mouth. Her lips gave dispassionately to his kiss, and once he'd moved away, feeling proud and disappointed together, she paused for a few seconds before turning her body decisively around and continuing the walk back to his truck. He stood staring, confused and excited in the way only a young man can be, before closing the new abysmal air between them with only a few strides.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

I'll just throw this your way.


I'm over 20k into NaNoWriMo right now, so hell if I have time to write any damn thing ELSE, and while I would love to show you an excerpt from the embarrassingly unedited first draft of my novel, I just can't.

That's a lie. I wouldn't love to.

Anyways, I think it's okay for me to leave this short story here now. I wrote this several months ago, while in the process of moving back to California from Chicago. I like it, but hesitated to put it here because there wasn't enough temporal distance between it all. I didn't want to offend, or--hah--terrify. But I don't think that's important now. It's a very honest piece for me; it sums up much of the year quite well. The only title I currently have for it is the immensely creative "Chicago."

Back to writing.

(Oh, and if it's an issue for you, there's discussion of sex and sexuality in here. And also triggers for a few things: rape, sexual assault, emotional abuse.)

(...I feel as though I should promise that there is some good to it. There is.)


    Chicago used my time here to sing me a song about (or by) a redheaded man who likes to sing me songs about (not by) love and nights and belonging. But in the days before there were men or redheads or me or it there was a swamp, there, so I don’t know if I can trust its songs or what they’re about.
    The city makes me sick. I’m sitting on a train, and I could choke on how little that means here—trains are moving, traveling, going somewhere if you’re anywhere else. Here, though, it’s a complicated illusion: I’m going downtown, which is to say: I’m going deeper into the city, not doing what a train should imply, that is: motion, that is: the change of place from one point (here, the city of Chicago) to another (there, anywhere outside of the locality previously specified). All of the people sitting on the train are just more people, sitting quietly on this train and moving between microcosmic points within the same larger point. I want to look at a map of something larger just to remind myself of larger spaces, and there’s only a map of the city, how the train moves in the city, all those little points that still mean you’re stuck in here. There are confines, and you can break them, but you don’t need to. That is to say, it’s not entirely necessary.
    It’s my stop. It’s where I live, in the city. It’s not necessary, moving or breaking—and the names on the mailbox that belong to two people and me tell me that. They want to soothe me, I know, coo that this is home. But there’re trees tangled and tall and chaotic in my heart while the trees here are uniformly spaced, part of the grid and surrounded by yea-high little fences bought from a store seven blocks north and three blocks west on the same grid. North is too easy a game, here, and so the other directions fall down, following: east is where the lake lives, north is whatever is left after east is done with its winds and waters, its invasive fish and its much more invasive (to me) motor boats. The idea of a water taxi offends me and my door closes (I think I might have been responsible for that but remain unconvinced) behind me.
    Every element of space, of orientation and awareness, the capriciousness of direction an amateur mountaineer tries to locate, here is rendered into another inconvenience to be dashed. It’s all part of making everything efficient, and I remember being told when I arrived, overlarge suitcases taking up .011 of a block (facing north, on State), that this was one of the great things about living in the city: directions are made to be direct, directive, to be easy and groomed and well-behaved so that you might not wander anywhere you don’t expect. If you ignore their way of making your explorations lazy and jaunt off straight westward, say, without objective in mind, you’ll find a slum that looks how it did fifty years ago. It will be covered in much fresher laments. The city will apologize and promise to appropriate funds to clean it. The slum will be washed and rinsed and the people will be left in a clean slum; the city will cheer and downtown will polish its trumpets and street signs with the remaining money.
    After the doctors told us that my brother was schizophrenic, I did all the research I could stand without pulling my safety line (mental) in behind me. Cities make people more (crazy) prone to the disease (your brother is crazy), and the disease is seen as largely a result of environment (your chances of developing the disorder are 30% higher than), the people rushing around and doing nothing but moving within the same grid that is ultimately the same place (the general populace, which has a 1% chance without family history of the disorder). I told someone that I was disturbingly able to depict ideas mentioned in passing, or to involuntarily lapse into waking nightmares (daydreams) of death and feel passively fascinated, and he just said I was an artist.
    Art is why I came here: art school. I came to be educated in art, and I got only out of an abusive relationship coupled with the eventual realization that being choked post-coital is being abused and my heart broken and drunk and a fantastic capability to draw the human figure and then sexually assaulted by a repairman who left a joint on the counter like some kind of payment. (It’s in my room, awkwardly, like a forsaken relic or a warning, entombed in a plastic bag, but I’m assured it’s of a high quality.) I learned a lesson in bitterness and surely enough I made it into art, and my heart has ached with the sentiments of being fiscally poor but endowed with a homeland rich in grace ever since. I visited home to slake my thirst, and despite the lure of the man who sings songs and makes breakfast in the mornings, I felt like leaving would pull my tongue out and disembody my eyes, make me swelter and groan under the strain of being where I was never meant to be. The feeling of leaving was a heavy one, like liquor without nectar or salts to ease the burning. I watched the bay collide into the coastal mountains, ease into the valley of my youth—I’m still young—and my eyes hurt with the burden of water. Instead, I just hated, and my suitcase now took up less than .011 of the block because the trip had not been long and I no longer lived in downtown (the blocks are--or seem--longer there). A taxi took me home, did not help me with heavy luggage at 2 AM and I saddened, the weight of being somewhere someone always insisted on calling home pressing down my throat.
    He lessens his grip on my hair and moves a hand down my side, feeling the body he knows has only moved for him since we first coupled (and some time before): a dangerously fleeting hour of night where I undid my previous “not yets” and affectionately (generously haphazardly needfully) allowed myself to feel something sweet and low. If ever there was something to keep me at home, it would be you. It’s a line from a song whose tune I can’t remember and whose identity disappears as he holds my face and stands to hold himself to me. The reflexivity astounds me, like it always does, and it sweetens the poise of my steady lips to shaking. Trembling, even, the damned word. We gather our glasses (alcohol) and bid the disgusting, unnatural night sky goodnight. I ask if he wants me to put the candle out. He tells me, “No, we need that still.”
    We have sex (make something) to candlelight and soft music, an arrangement I had little hand in insisting on (I like this song). He has for a week been telling me: I have been avoiding sex because I don’t want us to be entrenched in each other, and I don’t want this to be all there is to us (leaving I’m leaving). For a week I and my sex drive, monster, have been quietly nodding and saying: but it’s never just been about sex for me.
    (First glass of wine.)
    The first night I got here, I went outside to see what the city looked like when the sky darkened and the world kept pulsing below. When I looked past the closing walls of skyscrapers, up, the sky was mauve. Chocolate sauce. Purple, red, a bruise coated with opaque smogged latex covering that couldn’t be peeled back by a God if there were one. One star, to the west. Dim. My arms were at my sides and I thought about what it all meant.
    I met a boy three years ago when I was a girl, and we had sex. He blamed it on me for two years, because it was my fault that I didn’t tell him about the rape until well before we had sex for the first time (crossing out both of our virginities, which is bafflingly a word; our collective virginities) and he still made the decision (presumably, his decision) to sleep with me. Two years later (less than that [after a lot of choking and hatred]), he told me it was like I’d raped him, telling him I was raped and then allowing him to sleep with me.
    (A word on the mention of choking: this young man used to have sex with [“make love to” seems semantically offbeat now, an archaic memory from the ruins of the relationship, a word on a tablet from whatever place in the universe the “we” used to take up] me and then, when I was sleeping curled next to him but never really with him, he would roll to me, whisper “I hate you” and put his hands around my neck. I would  (marking word of habituation, a verb insisting on a regular activity) first try to laugh, tell him to stop like he might be joking, and then flail and tell him to get off, push him away and claw and he would simply insist, “I hate you I hate you.” When his grip was really endangering me, he would roll over and tell me until my body felt raw from the effort of exposure to words, “I hate you,” shove me away from him hard and insist on the sentiment, scratch me and punch my arms, legs, side and remind me that sex was an act of searing hatred.)
    How I am having sex to candlelight and music, feeling romantic, affectionate emotions for a man who moves quietly into place within me and smiles every so often (murmurs “nothing” for explanation), is something that worries me. Its meanings to me confound me; sex is something you do and then you resent, as he rests atop me for some time and then rolls to my side and holds my hands and kisses my lips and is warm, is affectionate, doesn’t whisper anything at all. Hands don’t reach out to my throat but stroke my palms. Lips part only for air and the heat from our bodies, somehow still a word—not body, not technically speaking one or part of a whole. The silence is something I worry will be broken by his sudden, inevitable realization that I am an awful cancer, something to be taken apart and recreated into something better by strings of candlelit criticism. I cover it with soft sporadic kisses—forehead, palms, shoulder.
    He says, suddenly, eventually, in the irrevocable way spoken words have about them: What do you think about cars?
    When I was sixteen (before the choking, long before the sweetness of the red-haired singer, before my brother’s schizophrenia and long before the city), I was casually dating a friend of a friend. We were in my room. Afternoon, late spring, bright and warm and soft and western. I told him: no; and he took his zipper in hand. I told him I didn’t want to yet and he told me he didn’t love me yet, but he could if I were better.
    (Second glass of wine.)
    I didn’t say anything: I listened. He told me how impossible it would be to make me a wife as I were, a wild girl with a heart for the mountains and a need for words and words. I needed to settle, he would love me if I could settle, if I could abandon the stupid needs to be free and wild and young and alive, and I cried and he took something unmentionable off. (I don’t love you why are you insisting I want your love)
    (I never asked you to love me and I don’t need to do anything—I don’t—I can’t—)
    (I told the red-haired man the first time he surprised me by wanting me and simultaneously reminding me that I wanted him: I can’t do this yet. He said that he understood and spent still another hour kissing me. Just that.)
    My head pounds when I walk around the city. I grew up where you walk on pavement and asphalt for a block and then hit orchards that run forever. Here, there is no outlet—there’s nowhere I can walk to feel my feet hitting dirt and rocks that always lived there. I can’t be choked by the smell of fir, but by hands if I so choose. I can’t run. When I said no and no again, and then listened, I grew wilder, ran into nowhere and nothing, worried my mother and haunted my brother. The needs of leaving and not being and being anywhere else raked their heavy clay across my face and hands and told me to go and sleep where I could die but wouldn’t if I were smart enough, fast enough, alive enough. I kissed my face on the mirror and said “you were never good enough” and I left to be good enough for another grid, another place where directions change and become something dangerous and wild, my feet hitting the ground and pulsing over mounds of rotting fiber. I raised myself into another girl—no, a woman, not another anything but a free-born woman—and ran through trees and outran myself and ran into the man who choked me. My throat ached for air for two years.
    I have suffocated myself with the city. It grasps at me to tame me, like the North, and it tells me, “the Lake is always east.” I can feel it as my spirit softens within the confines of buildings that change shape and height and construct but never end. I know it as my feet know they haven’t touched native soil in daysweeksmonths, and if I let it lapse into years I will be lost, wandering always in a direction I know to be north or south, into places and faces that confuse my native tongue into a series of garbled words and pictures—I don’t know this tree, I’ve never seen the sky another color at night, no, there’s one star over there in the west.
    And he is strumming an instrument, and he is getting ready to find beauty (somehow) in here, and he is moving with me and he is soon going home, to my home, and the city is singing me a song that is trying to groom me (and him, I think him, too) to stay, to call it home and to make it home. Settle here, come here for art and stay for life, and I can’t (and he can’t, for that matter). I rest next to the man who sings and lights candles and I can’t sleep for the city’s thick gauze of humidity; I trace the way his skin perfectly fits over the angles of his face instead. He turns, he does not make a gesture of hatred, nor of love, and I find myself mercifully free to decide what that makes me: I am wild, I am running and falling and in the end the city will fail to keep either of us.
    In my final act against the city, before sleep eventually bores a deep well into the heat, I want him to be happy and I want myself to be wild.
    (Third [final] glass.) 
    We sleep hard to fight the city’s waves and its directions don’t matter in the subconscious. In my dreams I run further into the mountains, into a different madness, where trees swallow me and my feet are the soil under them, and when we wake in the city I will ache and feel hatred and so will he, but it isn’t a hatred for him(me)—for the place. Mutual. Our arms are crossed between us and I wait for Chicago to evaporate.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


I have not updated this in a long, long time. Life's been busy, things have occurred that have given me a touch of fear of writing. As in, I don't want to write because inevitably I will write about them and I would rather not think about them.

The time has come. So, I apologize in advance for the darkness.


this sentiment is falling apart
like I’d ripped its seams and
examined the things that fell from it
left disinterested
its fatigue rubs along my bones
and I alone can tell it,

my mornings are scraps of nightmares
I wear the sweat of some dream
or another, a beam I walk nightly
I fight to stay bearing myself
for a body I cannot feel
my head reels boldly against my needs
I am a woman, or was:
gone to someone, the hot pressure
the fissure running through my veins as I
throb and bend to pangs of pleasure
tease them out of strands of hair
bruises leasing land where fangs have broken ground
I pound my fists into my eyes and
feel shame, wet and playing games
gouging hard scars, burning
I can’t moan into a night where I have
before been forced--never make a sound
you will only hurt yourself
but oh, oh god, if you saw me now

when I can’t fight I let it slip
fingers, lips lighting afire for a while
let me decode my smile
I line the memory with fragile loves
things I no longer have, or want
what has been taken hurts the most
the aching host for my soul, one
the line that splits my whole taken
made to break for no one
I lament the loss and fake being--

I am guilty to you and everyone
a secret I can’t bear
eyes I will never bare
fall is here and I stand there waiting
the change is not coming
I lunge for it and let it hang
but I dare you to stay
I dare you to say to me,
it doesn't matter to me
you're bigger than your pains
fortunes change and I'm here
lives flicker in and out of range;
I lack the age to linger on
in fields of pain and rage
but its seeds cling
lonely, too free
my body not singly afflicted
and what else would you have me

Monday, July 25, 2011

I have issues titling things.


I'm in the process of shipping everything back to California, which is just a joyous exercise of going through a year or so of my life and deciding what's necessary and what's not (and finding all of my art from the year! that's kind of cool, at least). I'm also trying to see all of the friends I've made here (many of whom aren't going to be back in Chicago before I leave) before I ship out west again, and doing all the shit I meant to do here but hadn't gotten around to (midnight showing of Jurassic Park at the Music Box! So [pre]historic of me). This clearly means that a) my days have no structure and b) I'm a little stressed which in turn means b.1) I'm fighting waves of moodiness every couple of days! Bleh.

But on the upside, all of those things mean that I've been spending my evenings writing! Writing a lot! Yesterday I wrote for about six hours straight! I'm crazy! Aah!

...Yeah so anyways, here's the rest of that story I posted a couple of days ago. A few notes on it, since I haven't spent too much time polishing it yet:

1) My characters seem to have developed accents through the course of this one. The more I built the setting, the more I felt like they needed to be rougher, and more country or some such. I'll fix it in editing.

2) Abraham came out of nowhere. I was agonizing over where to carry the story next after Jess' mother leaves for a couple of days, and my options were a) Leave Jess alone, and maybe have her die (You people know how my writing goes!) or b) introduce another character. I didn't want it to be Bill. It would have been interesting, I'm sure, but it would have defeated the purpose. And so I was thinking, "Who the hell would a woman like Jess ever commune with? She's miserable and she hates everyone." Answer: A LOVER! Everyone likes sex, antisocial or otherwise! God, Kristi, you're a genius. But seriously, I'm not actually sure if I'm a genius (hurr hurr) because I'm thinking now I might like it better if I left Jess alone...but then, when I tried to leave her alone, she didn't do anything but wallow. And that didn't seem like a sustainable story.

3) Abraham bugs me and I think I'm going to tweak his character pretty significantly. He's kind of a pansy, and he's acting so cliche I kind of toyed with the idea of killing him off (why is that my solution to everything damnit).

4) Yes, I left the quotation marks out on purpose. I'm ~*~EXPERIMENTING~*~. Tell me what you think it does to the flow of the story and such. Is it confusing as hell? I hope not. That would suck. I guess I could always add hyphens to denote dialogue, but I don't like it as much. The point is the minimalism, and the detachment imposed on human interaction.

Anyhow. Here's the first full draft for your consumption.


But he’s here, isn’t he?

Oh, no.

But he was just gone, wasn’t he?

Well, yes. And the water outside glanced meanly at the sun, which stared into the tall eyes of the woman answering in two words. He was gone, again, and she (his wife) didn’t particularly enjoy nosy people probing her about it. There was the expectation of an explanation, a spreading of palms and a laugh. Maybe a roll of the old green eyes, and a shake of the head, hair growing spitefully white in streaks following. She gave neither of these, instead letting her face fall closed. It was easier to shut these annoyances off than to let the interaction flow the way they’d been learning since they all’d emerged, beating their hearts and wailing loudly, from their mothers’ contracting wombs.

Jess, you’re alone too much up here.

Oh? She wasn’t too concerned about that, but her name provoked a response. She clenched her jaws closed, to retract the small admission of participation.

What if you were attacked or got hurt?

By what, Mama?

The older woman shrugged, her hair long ago whitened like the valley sun unmoving above her shoulders. They weren’t in the valley. Mother was visiting.

Anything might attack a woman alone.

Jess grew tired of these insistences: a woman alone was more susceptible than a man alone, a woman alone might fall down and then she’d have to lie there and die but a man might pick himself up, or heroically crawl for help. Mother wouldn’t have said such things about Bill being home alone. She sighed and stood up, lifting her sweating glass of lemonade off the table.

Mama, I’m going inside.

I’ll stay out here. Lake’s nice today. There’s a good—

Come inside later. It’s hot out here. And keep drinking that glass, alright? The door swung shut behind her, rattling indecisively to usher the taller woman inside. Mother, left outside, put her sunglasses back on and resumed her passive study of the lake.

Behind the door (and a slight left down a short hallway), Jess pushed the glass of ice across a smooth countertop and pressed her palms into its cool trail. Bill used to make her lemonade, on summer days when she was younger and working outside—never constrained to womanly work, gardening or lazily manicuring the juniper bushes that rimmed their front yard, but pitching the gaps in the small rowboat Bill built, trimming large arms from the trees and hauling the broken branches on her own scratched and sweating back. The light would play across her strawberry blonde hair then, she imagined, dusty and mangled by the breeze off of the lake. Bill wasn’t home now, and as a manner of habit hardly ever was. Jess bit her lip and supposed that the days of working for small treats were over.

She walked past herself in the hall mirror and sat on their bed, feeling weighted. The days that had passed since he’d left this time—Just going Somewhere, darlin’—were without number or consequence to his wife. Thirty-three years was too long to count on. Her palms against her forehead still had the moisture from the glass; she expected more coolness from the clinging water. The obnoxious tepidness stirred her to get up, suddenly—away from the bed and its hot heavy sheets and untraceable memories. With her hands cradling each other, Jess swept her way back into the kitchen. The blue jeans she wore as a remnant mannerism from her more labored days slid unevenly over her legs in the thinness of the foothill heat.

Jess, there’s a few of those turkey vultures circling out here.

Her daughter ignored her; turkey vultures were always circling in the hills. It was certainly nothing new to the older woman, either, having lived her long life in the valley between (by very definition) two sets of foothills. And so she only knocked on the wooden frame of the screen door as she slid past. Her mother turned her head, just slightly, eyes ripe with cataracts sweltering in the afternoon heat.

Dinner was a silent affair on most nights, as Jess dined with the owls and crickets alone. She sat on the wooden porch, built high up over the hill’s steep grade, and stared down the path to the water intently. Coyotes scurried through the sticky grasses with their odd, flatish or globular leaves and raccoons’ eyes vibrated through the dark. But this evening, the spell of predators and night-prey—and what, after all, would choose to be a thing of prey at night?—was broken by her mother’s presence.

Jess was never one to mind silence, even in company. It was just her way. But her mother—somehow so different in manner from offspring, by some vast disconnect that Jess could not quite pinpoint despite the screwing of eyes and the twisting of lips—was awkward with silences, treating them with the clumsy care of a well-meaning child handling an infant. She watched her daughter stare down into the receding dark of that hill, which they both knew damn well ended in blacker lake water at the edge of the property (invisible to them from up here, in the night), anxiously waiting for some change in constitution. The way she studied, how her eyes narrowed slightly whenever Jess shifted or sighed, one might assume the daughter’s silence had some meaning. Perhaps to her mother it did; but for Jess, this was another lovely night of total solitude, broken by the unmentionable fact that she was not, in actuality, alone.

When will Bill be coming back, dear? The question caused Jess to unceremoniously drop her fork, and it clattered hollowly on the wood of the table. (Bill made that table years ago, right after the old one went out.) She lifted her eyes with some deliberation at her mother.

I don’t know, Mama. Her finality was emphatic; her mother ignored it.

He ought to not leave his woman alone so often, I think.

Who belongs to whom?

You’re his wife, dear.

He’s my husband.

He’s never here to be your husband, but you’re always waiting around to be his wife.

Jess placed her hands on the table and stood violently.

Who the fuck is waiting, Mama?

The two women stared at each other: one with shock and the other with raucous indignation.

I’m not about to lay down and die because Bill ain’t here! This is my house much as it’s his. I worked the land more than he did, even, and he just raised the goddamn animals! Her eyes glowered through a shade of dark at the elderly woman who, suddenly, looked worn—so worn—and she faltered, sat back down, picked her fork up. A stretch of silence following was unbearable even for Jess, whose mind wouldn’t concentrate to be quiet. The two resumed eating and waited.

Finally: But he’s still your husband, Jessie.

Jess would have stood again, angry, but for the papery tone of her mother’s voice and, loathsomely, the truth of the sentiment.

Yeah, Mama. I know.

Where does he go all these times? And Jess had already fixed her attention back to the thick black of the hillside, quieted for the remainder of the meal. Her mother eventually retired her ambitions of conversation and joined in her daughter’s uneasy sentinel watching.

After dinner, the two women sat again on the back porch, staring blankly into the nothingness both. Jess’ mother looked to her child every few minutes, confirming she hadn’t been spirited away or turned into a soft scent in the air.

Baby, I know you don’t like my asking. Her mother paused, took a sip of the bitter ale they’d found in the house. And I know I’ve asked before. But really, I mean it: where does Bill go?

Jess took a long pull from her own bottle, and felt the beer’s acridity lingering uncomfortably on the roof of her mouth.

I guess I don’t really know.

Why, doesn’t he tell you?


And you don’t ask?

Not anymore.

That’s trouble.

It was an odd thing to say, Jess thought. She scoffed slightly into her bottle and gulped the rest mightily, slamming the cheap glass onto the table as she swallowed.

Because Daddy wasn’t trouble, right Ma?

Now, Jess. You know I—

What do I know, Mama? I know you haven’t got the right to tell me how to be married. And I know I don’t know where Bill goes, and I know that I don’t care. Wherever it is, he never spends my money and I don’t have to clean up after him.

Your dignity, baby.

If he’s buying whores I’m too old and too isolated up here for it to matter any. I don’t have a reputation to look out for.

That’s not what I was suggesting. Not at all. Both women quieted again, backing off of their posts until the hard tension flooding the air receded, carried away by a wisp of breeze to the lake. Jess sighed.

Look, Ma, I don’t mean anything by it. I know you don’t want me to be like you, but Bill doesn’t treat me bad. He just doesn’t treat me any way anymore, and it’s too late in my life for me to bother fixin’ it. By the time I fix it I’ll be almost gone, I’d think.

You should finish your life happy.

Well, yes. Jess pressed the middles of her fingers up to her closed eyes and rubbed softly. Ideally, Mama, we would all finish our lives happy. But that ain’t happening, looks like.

You love him still?

No, Mama. Jess laughed softly, replacing her hands on the table. Not for a long while. Her mother looked stricken, and Jess felt inexplicably guilty. Well, how long did you love Dad? What did you expect?

I loved your daddy to the last, Jessie.

Now why’d you do a thing like that? Her mother’s mouth tightened, barely perceptible in the midst of her wrinkles.

I wanted to finish life happy.

Being hit and cheated on would make the sternest of women happy.

If you had children, you’d get it.

Get how complicated it is to be abused by someone who made the only thing you have left? Mama, I don’t think I want that. She watched her mother eye the rim of her beer as she spun the bottle in slow circles on the table.

Well, Jessie, you always were the cruel one.

Jess watched her mother’s tears crawl from those foggy blue eyes and make patterns on the oak where they fell. She turned her head. The line of the hills where they began to blend into night sky was barely visible in the dark. Whimpers rose and fell softly from across the table; Jess thought of what she might say whenever Bill finally came home. (Mama came and she thinks you shouldn’t be leaving me alone. Mama is worried about me, Bill. Mama is concerned I don’t love you. You know I don’t love you anymore, right? And how long has it been for you?)

The morning next, Jess woke up on the old sofa and remembered her mother would be leaving soon. She felt a peace, like the house was emptying of the other presence already, and brushed the folk quilts off her body. Briefly she looked into the kitchen, just across a small bar on the other side of the room, and noticed her mother was not cooking. The expectation had manifested itself without any real prompting from her, and the graying woman felt a lazy moment of amusement. She stood.

Mama. Mama, ‘salmost nine. She pushed the door to the guest room open and found it empty, the used sheets neatly folded at the foot of the now-bare mattress. Her eyes fell to the door from the guest room out to the porch, slightly open at the bottom (that damn frame had been sticking for years). Mama, ‘bout time for breakfast now. What d’you want me to make?

The elderly woman turned her head just barely, a small smile on her face. For once, Jess could not read the look on her mother’s face.

Jessie, you’re a smart girl.

The compliment gave the younger of the two pause; it was hardly without reason that her mother would say such a thing. She made no response, and waited for her mother’s thought to play itself to its end.

You gotta leave with me, Jess. The woman in question raised her eyebrow at her mother, standing on the porch and looking over the lake, speaking with strange authority. She couldn’t find it in herself to trust this, and watched like a deer in the brush, sheltered in the doorframe from her mother’s new proposition.

Mama, I don’t—

You can’t stay here! Baby, I could hardly sleep last night, thinking of my only daughter alone out here. Jess put a hand on her thin hip, covered only by the white cotton of her undergarments, and stared hard over her mother’s shoulder.

Mama, what you expect would happen? Nobody lives a long life that ends perfectly. I’ll live a while yet up here, Bill won’t be around much.

Nobody likes to eat breakfast alone.

Those things don’t matter to me anymore, Mama.

What do you have then?

I got this lake and I got a lifetime of pride that wouldn’t mind some breaking down before I go. Her mother eyed her hard, slipping away from the railing of the porch and towards her daughter.

You don’t have a thing in this world for you, Jessie. Not one thing. Just a strong head that tells you it’s okay to not have anything, that’s all.

Jess grinned at her mother.

‘Bout time you started going home now, ain’t it, Ma? Valley’s calling you.
Her mother, indignant, stopped just short of her daughter’s face—so much like her own but for the wrinkles.

Jessie, these hills’re gonna end you. And it will be your own doing. Can’t blame Bill, can’t blame me. You’ll be the only one left here.

Jess examined her mother coolly.

Don’t forget your coat, Ma. And the older woman stormed into the house, gathering her things. Leaning over the railing, Jess could just see the little boat rocking against a few wakes, buffeted against the shore and clicking, over the tops of Manzanita trees. The trees were her favorite, and grew everywhere up here in the hills. A large, sturdy one, nearest the porch, was hosting the thick coil of a rattler under its twisting roots. The front door slammed and Jess waited for the noise of her mother’s car. It dozed into existence and got quieter as it moved down the road; Jess rubbed her temples softly. Today the lake was calm. The splintering wood of the railing dug into her hard palms: time to sand the surface, refinish it.

Breakfast was no longer interesting to Jess, as she could feel now the weight of the tension on her bones and nestled, even, deep in her gut. The turkey vultures made frenzied circles in her peripheral vision. Things were always dying, she supposed, so the raptors were always scouting. The sun tired her in its crest over the hills; she walked into the house.

Her happiness was not up for discussion. She thought she had made that perfectly clear, to her mother and anyone else who might have asked after her marriage. Being married was a matter of comfort, a structure meant to make her and whomever she married secure; happiness was one’s own matter, married or no. She opened the dining room window and sat at the table with the breeze, clamoring through the loose screen in conversation. In the early evening, she thought she might go out on the boat on the lake, catch a rainbow for dinner, then come back and maybe trim a few of the magnolias out front. They were getting unruly in the midsummer heat, when their keeper’s own limbs (she hated to admit it) grew lazy and often put off the burdens of manual labor indefinitely. But still, the audacious white blooms settled themselves softly on waxy leaves, growing untamed without her. It seemed to Jess that she wouldn’t have the heart to trim them today, when the white reflected the sun like that—pulsating like that, like the valley. That white was the flowers’ own bold assertion of their youth; she didn’t have the spite in her heart yet to destroy anything that wanted to be young and alive.

A truck clattered to a stop in her driveway. Her hands found the table, pushed her fragile weight up just slowly. Not Bill, no; surely not yet. It wasn’t his way to come back from wherever he went while she was feeling heavy and lonely. The papery white of the curtain was easily removed the window, making clear her visitor: Abraham. Her breath heaved quietly from her lips even as her eyes closed, and from the outside of the house the curtain fluttered back to touch its frame, inside, just obscured by the afternoon light on the glass.

Abraham, what brings you to this side of the lake? A pair of heavy leather boots fell to the driveway’s gravel. She knew precisely what he was here for, but it was unexpected, and it made her nervous. Now would be a time Bill might resolutely decide to pick up and come home to his wife, just now.

You. Jess put a hand on her hip, the linen beneath heating up in the wake of her pressure.

And what makes you think I’m available for you?

He squinted his eyes at her, his smile turning crooked and boyish. A charming man, a man whose hands had seen hard toil for his entire life—Abraham, a regular cowboy. Jess chuckled slightly to herself before allowing her face, again, to fall closed. Encouraging him didn’t seem a helpful thing for her now.

Jessie, don’t play games with me. You don’t gotta be ashamed of it.

Bill could come home any time. You know that. The man, taller even than her, scoffed and swiped a match on her porch railing. He lit his cigarette.

Bill’s a goddamned fool. And you know that.

You be careful how you talk about a lady’s husband, Abraham.

I’ll say it again and I’ll say it until I’m dead, lady. Your husband Bill is a fucking fool. He up and leaves you behind all the time. You think it’d be his place to blame you if you go ahead and decide you’re gonna live your life out with me?

Jess stared hard at him, an expression that couldn’t quite be a scowl.

You know what I have to say about that. Abraham took a drag on his cigarette, the strength of the tobacco filling the air between their steady positions.

Yeah, and I still think it’s bull. You don’t got any husband left to lose, Jess.
The house—

Goddamn the damned house!

Jess stared at him plainly, trying to affect a calm she had to struggle to hold. He rarely got angry.

Really, Jess. Just goddamn it. My house is fine, and we’re both lonely. Jess braced herself for something she could sense—and feel with her toes on the porch’s wood, somehow. Her eyes looked down at his arm as it roped its way around her waist.

I love you, Jessie. She tilted her face, slight and drained, upward. They were words she hadn’t really listened to in a long while, nor had she recently been grateful to hear them; her mother, Bill—people whose declarations of love meant they wanted something, or felt they had something to uphold. That thought perched in her mind: she could see herself, now, fleeing with Abraham. There would be few things she would want to take from here, and it would all be as simple as writing a note for Bill, whenever he finally got himself home: There’s nothing left of you for me to leave behind. Just that, just simple like that. One sentence, simple. There’s nothing left. And it would be true.

Jess pressed her head against Abraham’s collarbone and let the idea roll around through her body. A thought she hesitated to speak: I love Abraham, I do.

You couldn’t marry me, Abraham. I’m done with marrying.

I won’t let it worry me. There was something in his voice—a little relieved, a little wanting. She hadn’t returned the expression of love. She turned in his arms and leaned her head back on his shoulder.

I’m too old to start this again now.

We’re both too old, Jess. And frankly, I don’t care.

You sound like a kid.

I feel like a kid.

Then maybe we shouldn’t be making grown-up decisions like this. I already got married when I was a kid, and look what it’s gotten me.

You know I’ll treat you better. I already treat you better.

That’s not it, Abraham, and you know it.

Jess, you aren’t happy. You need me to treat you right. Jess turned herself back around in his arms and imagined Bill’s truck rambling up the driveway, seeing his wife in the arms of another man—a handsomer, leaner, more passionate man—and was struck with the vile surety that he would simply push past the two into the house. Nausea fled from her stomach halfway up her throat; she suppressed it mightily.
Need you to treat me right, you think? Her eyes beat a hard well into his eyes, which fell swiftly to apprehension.

Yeah, Jess. And I can see your indignation, and I know you don’t want to need a man, but it ain’t like that.

What’s it like, then?

It’s like…. Jess’ eyes traced a line on the horizon, now far from the sun as the day sank into low evening. She waited for him to finish. It’s like you can’t be alone any more. I can’t watch you be alone any more, because Bill is just going to keep leaving and coming back and leaving again. Someday, Jessie, someday he’ll die out there.

Jess felt her body aching, in sorrow of some sort she couldn't pin down. Her concentration fell again to the horizon as she staved it off.

You listen to me. Look at me, Jess. Bill will just stop coming back someday and you won’t even know the difference until you die waiting. No one’ll be there to mourn you but me, okay? But I’ll still mourn for you. You feel like you got nothing left but that ain’t it. I’m here and I love you more’n Bill ever will, or did.

Jess was silent for a long time.

What d’you want from me, Abraham?

Come with me, now. Come with me now and we’ll make it.

That what you came here for? Abraham held her shoulders, gently, his hair being ruffled by the wind. The way he looked at her was almost hurting, and Jess felt a vein of guilt cry its way through her. She staunched it before it made its way into an apology in her mouth.

Well, Jesus, I just came here to be with you, but the conversation seems to have swung to declarations.

Do you mean them?

Of course I do. I’ve been thinking them for a while now, at that.

That you want me to run off like a stupid girl?

That I want you to spend whatever life we've left with me.

What a funny thought. We don’t have that much life left to spend.

Abraham crushed the filter of his cigarette beneath his boot. And either you can spend it here waiting for a husband who’s never gonna be a husband to you or do right by you, or you can come with me.

Jess tired of the conversation. Being asked to run away from a thirty-year marriage, no matter how torn and disused, was a juvenile thought—Abraham was following the same impulse that probably made Bill leave all those times. Her body cooled in the wake of that thought. She turned her face from his and pushed herself away, walking back towards the front door frame. There she stood, leaning. Abraham looked hurt and Jess felt superior to him, his needs and his loneliness.

The only thing’s gonna make me lonely is if I have somebody to miss, Abraham. And who says you ain’t gonna do the same damn thing in a couple of years?

Abraham’s face had turned somber and his body swayed slightly with the force of a breeze off the lake.

Who’m I to trust you? Bill was a good man when I married him thirty years ago, and now I have nothing but you. She swallowed. You and your damn dreams of taking me away. When’s being the white knight gonna run out of appeal for you? A year? Two? Five? Maybe ten, and I know we got ten years of life left in us yet. So it’ll just be going bad when we’re about to die.

Jess, this isn’t just your stubbornness.

You’re goddamn right it isn’t.

What’re you scared of?

Starting this whole damn thing over again.

I won’t.

You can’t promise me that.

I am promising you.

You’re just as much a fool as Bill then, Abraham. And with that the man in question, foolishly, pushed her with softness into the house and closed the door, kissing her with lips that had been pressed hard together. The sheets of the bed Jess had not lately shared with her erstwhile husband were rolled and placed into disarray, and as Abraham made love to her he told her he was never thought a fool and never had in all his life been such a fool for a woman. Jess’ thinness rocked beneath him, cradled in the gestural warmth. And what was sex, now, but a gesture? Abraham’s deep wildness, spinning a slow record of passion from his fingers as he grazed along her body, moved her in ways she did not expect and could not comprehend. Stillness overtook them. Abraham held her hand beside her, sprawled away from her in the heat, and whispered summers to her through the evening air.

I love you, Abraham. You know I do.

I know, Jessie.

You expect me to come away with you?

I don’t expect a thing of you, except that you do what you need to be happy. Are you happy here, Jess?

I don’t know.

A fool can tell you aren’t. Jess grinned at him in the soft light, and curled her body towards his.

But Abraham, you are a fool, remember? He closed his fingers tightly around her hand.
Please, Jessie. I know I can take good care of you. Outside the window, a great horned howled, and Jess stretched herself back out on her back to its song.

I can’t even take good care of me, Abraham. I can’t leave what I spent my life leading up to. It might be an awful ending, but it’s the one I chose.

Why’s it too late to change it?

Because I spent more’n fifty years preparing for this.

For dying alone and quiet?

Some of us were meant for that, Abraham. It’s how I picked.

You married Bill thinking you’d end up sad and alone? Jess laughed aloud, and Abraham’s eyebrows bent downward. She shook her head.

Not at all. I thought I’d be happy, like any other young wife. But somewhere along the line things just didn’t go that way. And I’ve made years of decisions to keep it up. Backing off to be happy all of a sudden just seems selfish.


Abraham, I can’t leave Bill.

Bill’s left you, Jess. You don’t have that choice.

I’m gonna make it anyways.

Abraham got up and dressed, his words having fled him. Jess watched him, thinking it was probably hard to run out of words to say to the person you love. She wouldn’t have known. Sleep didn’t make its way to her that night.

The next morning, as Jess woke and dressed and made her tea alone, she bathed in the sun’s warmth through the windows. The corpse of an old Manzanita twisted its grayed branches out to the lake, a perch for a large mourning dove that emitted a low cry from its silhouette in the face of the eastern sunlight. Jess carried herself to the porch out back, hanging over the hill to the lake, and grasped the wooden rail softly, softly. Dew still clung in the pores of the wood, and she felt its moisture soothe her calloused hands. The dove cried again. Across the lake, another responded. The aging woman, a faint frown on her face, thought she heard the rumble of her husband’s truck. The wind blew the sound into nothing, never to return, and she settled onto her elbows. It was her fault, being here in the sun and alone as the dove on the circling, dead branch. She might have gone with Abraham, who was right: someday, Bill would not return. Intrinsically she was aware that this was a true thing, and that when it occurred, she would maybe feel finally burdened by her solitude. But for now, it was a peace to be freed from the blinding pressure to feel love in a marriage tied only by the leftover knots of years and emotions long gone.

Jess turned her head from the hot light of the sun, still leaning over the dampness of the railing she and Bill built in the beginning—and she alone kept up now—and watched the lake rise up again against its shore, beating back its motionlessness with constant movement. She sank against the bars without knowing why, her back to that hard void sun, and closed her eyes, silhouetted and listening to the dove crying alone; now, alone.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Part II of Kristi Writing Like 10 Pages a Day

Again. know what, just read the gosh-dang title. I have an awful cold and I've been in a daze all day. I'm not explaining things to people!

(Uh, except that this is the beginning excerpt from another story I started on Wednesday or Thursday.)

(Also worth a mention: the universe apologized today, I think. What are the odds of thinking, "I wonder if x will be on the train I'm about to board?" and then having the doors open up to reveal that person? Very bad odds, very good situation.)


But he’s here, isn’t he?
Oh, no.
But he was just gone, wasn’t he?
Well, yes. And the water outside glanced meanly at the sun, which stared into the tall eyes of the woman answering in two words. He was gone, again, and she (his wife) didn’t particularly enjoy nosy people probing her about it. There was the expectation of an explanation, a spreading of palms and a laugh. Maybe a roll of the old green eyes, and a shake of the head, hair growing spitefully white in streaks following. She gave neither of these, instead letting her face fall closed. It was easier to shut these annoyances off than to let the interaction flow the way they’d been learning since they all’d emerged, beating their hearts and wailing loudly, from their mothers’ contracting wombs.
Jess, you’re alone too much up here.
Oh? She wasn’t too concerned about that, but her name provoked a response. She clenched her jaws closed, to retract the small admission of participation.
What if you were attacked or got hurt?
By what, Mama?
The older woman shrugged, her hair long ago whitened like the valley sun unmoving above her shoulders. They weren’t in the valley. Mother was visiting.
Anything might attack a woman alone.
Jess grew tired of these insistences: a woman alone was more susceptible than a man alone, a woman alone might fall down and then she’d have to lie there and die but a man might pick himself up, or heroically crawl for help. Mother wouldn’t have said such things about Bill being home alone. She sighed and stood up, lifting her sweating glass of lemonade off the table.
Mama, I’m going inside.
I’ll stay out here. Lake’s nice today. There’s a good—
Come inside later. It’s hot out here. And keep drinking that glass, alright? The door swung shut behind her, rattling indecisively to usher the taller woman inside. Mother, left outside, put her sunglasses back on and resumed her passive study of the lake.
Behind the door (and a slight left down a short hallway), Jess pushed the glass of ice across a smooth countertop and pressed her palms into its cool trail. Bill used to make her lemonade, on summer days when she was younger and working outside—never constrained to womanly work, gardening or lazily manicuring the juniper bushes that rimmed their front yard, but pitching the gaps in the small rowboat Bill built, trimming large arms from the trees and hauling the broken branches on her own scratched and sweating back. The light would play across her strawberry blonde hair then, she imagined, dusty and mangled by the breeze off of the lake. Bill wasn’t home now, and as a manner of habit hardly ever was. Jess bit her lip and supposed that the days of working for small treats were over.
She walked past herself in the hall mirror and sat on their bed, feeling weighted. The days that had passed since he’d left this time—Just going Somewhere, darlin’—were without number or consequence to his wife. Thirty-three years was too long to count on. Her palms against her forehead still had the moisture from the glass; she expected more coolness from the clinging water. The obnoxious tepidness stirred her to get up, suddenly—away from the bed and its hot heavy sheets and untraceable memories. With her hands cradling each other, Jess swept her way back into the kitchen. The blue jeans she wore as a remnant mannerism from her more labored days slid unevenly over her legs in the thinness of the foothill heat.
Jess, there’s a few of those turkey vultures circling out here.
Her daughter ignored her; turkey vultures were always circling in the hills. It was certainly nothing new to the older woman, either, having lived her long life in the valley between (by very definition) two sets of foothills. And so she only knocked on the wooden frame of the screen door as she slid past. Her mother turned her head, just slightly, eyes ripe with cataracts sweltering in the afternoon heat.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Raw city

Hello hello.

I haven't updated in a while because my life has, once again, become quite hectic. I was hardly writing for a week or two, which is kind of something I do when big things hit me--I broil in my emotions for a while without even touching pen and paper, and then suddenly I just have outstanding output. Last night alone I wrote something like twenty pages: started and finished a short story, finished that short story that's been up here for a while (at long last), and started another story (about 10 pages in already). No poetry, shockingly--I've just been in the mood to write a lot of raw, gritty, depressing-as-all-get-out stories.

And that brings me to the started-and-finished story! It's pretty short, just barely eight pages long, and it's pretty much just an open sore of everything that's been compounding in my psyche as a result of aforementioned recent events. Writing it hurt and exhausted me--usually a good sign. But I'm still undecided on the issue of actually publishing it, as it leans heavily on actual people and real situations, and I really have no idea who all actually reads this thing (hello to my visitors from Asia and Europe! There are apparently a lot of you. Cool.). Because I don't want anyone to be offended or weirded out (omg this writer girl I know she like...WROTE stuff about me, who even DOES that), I'm going to chicken out and not put it up....yet.

So I'm going to give you the finished story that I've been working on forever. This one ended up--shockingly--totally depressing and dismal. Eh. You'll live. UNLIKE THE MC AMIRITE

P.S. I abhor the way this damn thing changes my formatting. It gets rid of my italics and won't let me indent. Obnoxious. I'll try to fix it.


Something. Reach a hand out, flex the fingers just to feel the skin stretch and strain against the cold (but I never knew cold and he always did and didn’t like it so we must’ve met halfway and that was how we defined it: cold). Turn over. Fragments: something: honey eyes bouncing their light off the trees and an owl perched on his shoulder. He says, a whisper quieter than if he’d said nothing at all, “You could go if you wanted.” The blackness of something—something used once to stop boats their uselessness fills in the gaps left by his words as his mouth continues moving. The owl flutters its wings. Hoots.

“There was a nest of great horned owls that lived in the tree in front of my house.” I say it. He smiles to it. “I liked sitting on the driveway at dusk and waiting for them to fly out.” Smile again and a new chuckle. Blue filaments, light, filing towards the owl; it looks back at him. Laughter from one or both and I feel warm. Smells of dense soil, orchard soil late in the growing season: watered and rewatered and rewatered again, perfect mud and horrible footing. It’s cold. My feet, for no reason, feelings they’ve no business muddling in down in their nice cool mud while my body shivers. Enjoy that soil, baby.

In the morning I’ve made pancakes, and I look up what an owl means. Change; fluidity of life, as it turns out, to which I rub my nose with the back of my hand (it’s cold) and my mouth’s corners twitch hard upward.

“It’s almond blossom season.”

“I know.” My nose doesn’t hate this time of year like most others’ who’ve lived their whole lives around the trees. Maybe it’s because I never accepted that the body would slowly be beaten down by the pollen rather than build up a yearly immunity; that’s how it should operate. My hands find a rough patch of denim to slide into because it should be colder but it’s not. I’m outside anyways, and the sky is its effervescent slightly-green blue, the specific cool kind that slices meanly at your eyes. That blue looks nothing but honest, so I keep my hands in my pockets and hope for rain.

The car’s silver like those disgusting bugs (fish? silverfish) that eat at bookbindings and the glue of wallpaper (we get those bastards in the house every winter and the earwigs replace ‘em in the spring) but it makes me want to go anyways.
“Thinking of going somewhere?”

“Nah.” I am a liar: in my head I’ve been picturing the hundreds of places I’ve been that aren’t here in this house, with its disgusting equinoctial infestations. A city that emerges from urban highway rolling into sensual hills filled with lusting green and you can feel its inhabitants writhe (pulse) to the city’s movements from the foothills where it spills out pure vibrating breasts heaving towards the sea (the bay). Then: someplace so isolated and dense and free anyways that I stumbled upon sex (“stumble” is an apt word not for the circumstances of discovery but because certainly it lead to some deep falls later on, my grace forever affected), unleashed something triumphant and heathen from somewhere soft and filled with the sound of heavy breaths that tumble out onto heaving breasts and on towards some deep wetness; twigs snap around and I shone a flashlight into the dark in the afterglow but there was nothing to reflect it, so I turned it off and moved over to the other sleeping form which was just that: sleeping—so I just slept alone. And then: walking to the old-style water pump in the cold and the dark (god-fucking-damnit it’s summer why’s it so cold up here), stumbling on stones and branches and as I clumsily pass hearing a loud, thick lapping at the river—flup flup flup—that stops curiously as the distance between me and whatever extremely large looming beast (or monster) is over there closes like its mouth—flup flup fl—and I return to ridiculous shelter in moonlight that forces me to shed, one by one, all of my various security constructs (bears don’t lap like that deer are too small must be a cougar cougar shit it must be a fucking cougar) and my pace quickened with my pulse.

“Nah,” I say again and push my hands deeper into my pockets. My feet twitch slightly, toes cracking beneath my shoeleather and I step further down the slight angle of the driveway. I am no liar; I don’t really want to go back to any of those places, anyhow. They’re just pretty carrion, slowly decomposing into a mass of uniform and oozing sap, like blighted almond tree bark split by thick viscous amber, vicious and bitter. But their containers are still pretty, and if I can enjoy the places in my head as just places and not settings per se, I don’t have to pay attention to the hatred that happened in them.

My name’s being called and I choose to ignore it, though the tone is getting more mean and full of warning with every syllable. I kind of like the way those fluctuations of warning dance together: hon-ee HON-ee hon eeHONwherereyouGOin. Right at the end of the driveway. Left onto Nan. Right onto Jeppson (past the uncomfortable low-income units). Right onto Toomes. Left onto Kiernan. Long gravel road, sidewalk on the side of the street I’m not on, wait for cars to clear and listen to make sure there aren’t any barking guard dogs near and then sidestep through the gaps in the trees (somewhere in the back of my head I’m always [every damn time] aware this is a crime and farmers will always have guns before they have the chance to see that I’m just some woman).

Looking for dogs reminds me of when I was almost a woman—or maybe I was, since it was after the sex that I’d really taken to orchard-walking; I’d done it my whole life, but only really when I needed to clear my head; or maybe once you’ve dabbled in sex your head always needs clearing—and walking through the orchards out here. It’s summer, so the trees are green and tortured with the tightly holding drops of ripe fruits. Cracking the dull greenish shells is always satisfying, then, because you get to see the little sad gem of a budding almond, pretty and golden-brown without the beautiful fullness, like brown eyes.

(I didn’t know my own eyes were hazel until someone pointed it out to me, not even a boyfriend just someone, maybe even the optometrist—I thought they were just dull brown but then I was fascinated and actually looked and there, light amber brown and green like Sierra sweetgrass and even some pretty yellow honey-colors and then spots of teal, too. My friends [girls] thought it was unusual that I hadn’t scrutinized every goddamn square inch of self I had, and I blushed but secretly took pleasure in that small gesture of late self-discovery.)

I’ve been walking the seam of the orchards, Hammett Road (or Drive), just ambling and letting the valley summer lift its hot, dense fingers over my brassy shoulders while the occasional car zips past, rumbling over the shred of asphalt gravel. A few of them infuriate the summer’s humid pregnancy to stir, slipping around my body a merciful cooling lace of wind that’s there and gone, the valley having regained her staunch composure. I cross over the canal, a cool non-liquid green vein of murk flowing under a weathered “No Trespassing” sign, and veer hard to the left, across the gentle slope of Hammett’s eastern end. Of course there are more orchards over there, and like all the other orchards in Salida, it’s an almond orchard: green leaves flitting over the rich ripe shells of its clinging spring-conceived fruits, trunk finely lined and rough, a thick gray hide that occasionally is broken with hardened glowing bubbles of sap too thick and airy to flow down, so they froze there waiting to fall from gravity instead of fluidity. I peel one of the sick oranges from its wound and play with it as I let myself diffuse into the walking.

It smells bitter, which is a switch that people who haven’t had the chance to spend their lives less than a block from acres and acres of almond orchards tend to expect to be the normative state of anything related to the almonds; for whatever reason, bitterness comes to mind in the consideration of the fruit, probably because of its extract. But the orchards are fermenting in earthiness, thick and hooded with the moisture of immense decay in the summer—and in the spring, light and fickle and sweet-smelling, not dry but just warming up from the winter. I’m not paying too much attention to all of my surroundings—focused too intently on the task of tracking a raccoon that’d left fresh prints in the mud—and the realization propels my mind into an awareness singularly conserved for contrast with unattentiveness. Something is pulling on me, a staccatoed bit of noise that I didn’t hear and my mind did. The second time, I hear it: barking.

Dogs, I’ve gathered from years of strange looks cast at me by city- or suburban-born friends, are only a threat if you are a newspaper boy. When you live in the country, this is most certainly not the case, and especially so if you are on the dog’s territory. I am; the sound of an uneven gait passing through clumped mud tells me so. Farmers raise their guard dogs to be fast, strong, mean as hell because stupid kids like to drink and fuck in orchards and stupid wanderers like to daydream between the trees and empty bottles (full condoms). I can just make it out: a huge thing, grayish in color, pert ears back for the chase that I give now, a moment after making that observation. How I run doesn’t matter, through already-stagnant puddles from the morning’s sprinklers or crushing weeds and roots and grasses underfoot, but that I do and quickly. So my mind is free to take in the unusual sensations of blurred sounds and colors that arrhythmically go with the information my feet are taking in: the sound of a twig snapping though my feet felt it five steps ago now. (If you live in the country and actually end up feeling the country you learn to run, even if you don’t go where you aren’t supposed to and don’t need to; it just manifests somehow.)

Two more technical things you learn growing up in the country: the layout of the land, which orchards end where; and that a good dog, no matter how excited to be chasing something that doesn’t just launch up a tree, will not ever run outside its territory. (I’m not precisely sure when this knowledge comes or in what order, but it does, and eventually you learn to combine the two, probably the first time you get chased hard.) My blood shoots through my wrists and back up to my heart again while my breath departs my lungs for a good five minutes, my body an afterthought of these as it winds deeper into the orchard and then thrusts myself, veins and blood and wrists and lungs and all, out, eastward, towards the little spur of a gravel road off of Hammett that will get me to the rough shrubby patch along the edge of 99. I’m not sure when the thing stopped chasing, but I won’t stop running until I burst, totally voided of breath, onto those stubborn ugly grasses. I can see them between the trees and their papery olivey leaves and then comes the burst between packed edgedirt and gravel and finally sticky, sweet shrubs clinging. I fall on my knees in them and their rock-hard dirt and have left a fine trail of blood running down the tanned skin of my shins, both sides. My legs have always been used to that abuse, and so I just pick myself up, smiling, and walk on back home, sticking mostly to the streets and cutting through the Ciccarelli orchard to Kiernan (which never had a dog that I’ve ever seen).

The orchard I walk along now is quiet, one of my favorites. It blends mile after mile together into more almond orchards owned by different people (broken by the occasional long dusty road) whose property lines don’t matter if you know how to walk the orchards without drawing attention to yourself, and if you walk to certain latitudes within those orchards, you can find places that don’t matter to the rest of the world: an old farmhouse with a small enclosure, where there are ducks, and geese, and chickens, and a bull who will charge the unstable fence if you linger at the property too long. There’s another one, further back into the miles, with an old bay mare that walks right up to the fence and lets you pet it until the property owner comes out: git, git. It’s California, but the farmers still say things like “git” when you loiter on their farms petting their animals.

My car—no, not my car, the other one—drives up, past the orchard, slowing down and I know its driver is peering through the trees for me. But it’s not like I haven’t been terrified in my fair share of orchards by burly farmers protecting their stock with a vengeance: I crouch slowly, taking up against a bulky tree, and wait until the engine whirrs off somewhere. Then I move quickly, deeper into the orchards, westward, because that driver can run faster than I can, can probably outsmart me, but doesn’t know these trees like I do.

I stop myself near one of the dirt veins that run through the orchards, housing small wells and debris piles full of trimmings, and sit down on the concrete lip of a buried cistern. It’s filled with pond scum, missing the pond, crawling up miraculously along the chinked side walls. I smile without feeling it and move my eyes up into that metal-cold blue, the sun a spot of chillier-still non-color, wondering what I’ll say when I get back home. Maybe nothing; maybe it’s time to just say nothing. I lean a hand hard onto my jeans and watch the trees for the birds, whose songs mingle.

(Mourning Doves have the most beautiful bird songs I’ve ever known. I used to only get to hear that lovely heartaching song when I was down in Arcadia to visit my grandparents, because there was a big oak tree in the front yard and the doves loved to perch in it and sing in the southern California morning sunlight [sunlight accompanies every season down there, and people tend to assume the same of up here]. I wonder whether the new owners took the oak tree out.)

I feel like a hick, picking birdsongs out, but it’s such an honest knowledge that I don’t bother to try to censor it for anyone. I grew up with them, knowing what the birds are and what they look like too—just like I grew up to know where to run through the orchards, how to avoid mad dogs and men alike. The last thought strikes me, and I’m recovering from its pause when a dog I wasn’t prepared for breaks loudly through the brush lining the trees, barking and spitting.

“Shouldn’t’ve done that. Why did you go?”

I don’t reply, and try to resist the feel of alcohol eating at my blood (dog saliva, crazy fucking mutt). The wince comes slowly over my face.

“I was driving, you know.” There is a pause and another sting. “Looking for you. It’s impossible for you to not have seen me.”

My eyes are lowered and I stretch my hands out, curl the fingers back in, feel the skin tighten and scowl at the floor. My right fist is running red, coated in dried splotches settled over purpling flourishes from under the skin. The patterns are pleasing. If I said that, there would be laughter of some kind in response, but it would be unpleasant; not endearing or even tolerant. I don’t. I stopped saying what I thought at some point before my hair started turning gray-blonde, and I feel the slow stupid dryness of my mind, blank. Instead, I’m thinking images—impossibly tiny fragmented pieces of sensation like my left foot rolling over the smooth oval of an almond shell and interrupting my running, the warm sweating soak of the dog’s breath on my fist as I wrestle with it, a hard staple of pain in my shoulder as white knives hit me and tear, the up sensation—just up, no vision of down or thought of how—of scaling a chainlink fence and then the hateful pregnancy of waiting for my feet to move me home.

“You should thank that dog. I could have hit you myself.”

My jaw tightens. I would give anything to smell bay laurel, eucalyptus, to be driving along a highway rimmed with ferns and moss and picketed by stern tall redwoods. I can breathe. Drive further along the ridge and there’s a view of the sea over Pescadero, and on the other side I can’t see yet there’s a big marsh, golden brown like almonds right now but filled with migratory birds; beyond that, acres of farms bordered by rolling hills that find themselves quickly and rise higher (mountains). I know there’s an animal sanctuary hidden in those hills, and a restaurant that says it’s famous for its artichoke (best in the world) but is really just a local joint (artichoke from this strip of Pacific is the best in the world, it’s true), and a pick-your-own farm that has blackberries, olallieberries, boysenberries (my favorite) and strawberries in the summertime. The smell of the Pacific brushes past somewhere I can’t name and I shudder.

“But really—” the sound of the alcohol-soaked cotton ball hitting the trashcan next to the toilet I’m perched on is sick with phlegm and grows like a thick moldy gauze in the air—“you’re almost forty. I’m not sure why it is you think this is acceptable. Walking in the orchards.”

“Sorry, baby.” I’ve mumbled it to myself, and the words are bitter in my mouth as they bubble out.

“Don’t call me that.”

I look up, my cuts bandaged, and go to sit on the windowsill of my old room. There is no resistance to this need and that, at least, takes a festering weight from somewhere hard and boxed in me. I kick some of the boxes aside, filled with my mom’s old china dolls and the children’s books (mine when I was little) she gave to me, hoping I’d have an edge over my brother on reproducing. A short storm of dust flowers out, clinging to my moist legs (to get the wounds clean I had to strip down) in the heat, and I stir up countless more as I make my way to the dirtied sill. Dirt doesn’t bother me and it will wash off the underwear, even if I’ll catch hell about it first, so I sit down without reservation and stare outside.

I’ve never been attacked by one of those dogs. I’ve always been able to outrun them. It drags on my mind and I wonder: is it because I’m older? Maybe my instincts just aren’t as sharp. I laugh painfully. Nah. You know it’s because you’ve given up. My back curls into the straightness of the wall, head rolling back, and I feel thin. Not fragile, maybe, but soluble. What a word. I used to feel things like feminine and poetic and embarrassed, but now I just curl my hands over my shoulder blades and enjoy that I haven’t lost the shape of my body.

My eyes close around a brush of winter air from the window. One of the owls from the fir trees out front calls out something sharp. I’m realizing as I run my hands over my bruised and scraped legs (raw and scabbing, still dirty on the skin between abrasions) that I never cleaned them (my hands), and there are cracking rivulets of red scattering from the hard blossoms of rubbed-off skin, looking oddly polished on the knuckles so close to the bone. The bite marks that make my tannish hands into fleshy imperfect constellations are deeper, though, and the blood has made a rotted brown lining for them. The edges of tattered, punctured skin are fresh, still, pinkish and slowly turning white like dying. My eyes are dry, but I don’t want to touch them with the awful dirt of my hands.

I walk out of the cluttered room and call down the hallway: “I should go to the hospital.” There’s a laugh from what used to be Mom’s bedroom (it was pink when she bought it and she painted it yellow before I went to college; I picked the color scheme for her) and a “You don’t. Shut up” mercifully overridden by the sensuality of a curling summer wind. I sit down by the door jamb and hold my dirty knees.


A few weeks (couple of months) after the dog, I’m sitting, hunched, on the edge of the cheap white bathtub which has been flaking pieces of its skin off for as long as I can remember. It hurts.

“Why do you always get sick as soon as it’s flu season?”

“Bad immune system. You know that.” My face is flawed, collapsing in the weight of the pain. My stomach is cramping, electrical tremors moving smoothly through my torso and making me sweat. When my fingers touch the white elastic pools all down my arms and over my hands I feel a numbing pulse of fear. I’ve stayed away from that orchard since. I’ve obeyed. It hasn’t done my hands much good.

I cough into them (hands, two of them), which are clean now but pocked with the difficult scars. “Can you check my forehead?”

There’s a cold pressure on my brow and then, swiftly, nothing. “You’re burning the fuck up. Jesus.”

“Make me some tea?”

“I’m doing things. It’s not that hard for you, right?” I stare blankly at a figure that is solid but shallow. It feels like a sculpture. There isn’t anything I can do; I pull myself further into my coiled body. The peach colors of the linoleum my thin toes are touching is changing, the full roses blooming until the petals burst out of the modest leaves and scatter around, rippling under the floor. I drag my toes away and my stomach contracts hard. The bile comes up smooth and hot, and I choke on its texture.

I want to go walking. My legs are poised to get up, but footsteps fall into the room and there is a slight scoff at the sick liquid in the toilet next to me. I reign over the impulse to move and it leaves me, for fear as much as anything. More sickness, now, as my stomach staples itself together again; I can feel it sticking to my other organs, collapsing them all into an aching collage, and my vomit is seeping into my gums.

“Can I have my toothbrush?” It’s in my hand and was always there, its bristles gleaming cleanly, and my skin flushes under the enormity of letting this thing clean me. My head spins and I need to go again. I forgo the toothbrush, and the cries are more urgent now as I flee into the hall, out the door and turning down all of the streets whose names I know and whose directions I don’t care about now—honey honey! honey! honey where’re you goin’, honey?—but I can outrun the shock in that voice. The trees I’ve been so studiously avoiding loom large in front of my vision, a hard wall asking me a million times where I’ve been, where’ve you been honey where you going where ARE you going where ARE you? They’re dark and the paths between them twist and intertwine and become similar and same and my scars ache and burn when their branches dig into them hard, deeper, plunge into a pool of tainted blood as my legs set an electrical (motorized, mechanized) path past them, uncaring unfeeling unthinking: animal. And then, and then the other side and my feet plunge into dirt as my body falls out of them and lunges onto hard blackened night-gravel and there are lights that collide into each other, the trees, the asphalt, and then my own scantness. It feels like breaking through the orchard’s branches, some parts restrained by hot hard twisting living limbs that take mine and deform them and some left to fly forward into sublimity and the infinity of the orchards, safe. I crash into myself and my body falters on the edge of its own life while blood creeps up my throat, refilling the scars and warming the hollowed body I’ve spent years living in, cold, for years hard-pressed to find a reason not to move (leave). I never did do that for myself. (You could go if you wanted.) My eyes wrap around the thick heaviness of a car’s headlights, light filtered through their beams and showing all of the particles of—what—my blood and the trees’ blood in the air, trained on a tree, probably, behind me, because that’s all there is to see for miles: my body on the country road, passed over by the boldness of the light, and trees.

And the owls, somewhere, as my heart finishes tearing into the scraps of the body I left behind years ago. They must be there, too.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Writing from home

sometimes I need to jut
out into the sun
somewhere bright and blooming
where we might consume ourselves
it would be fate to tell us,
"no, and find yourself,"
when all we can do is unwind
here, we're sitting here
and can't stand the fare
we can't return to far-flung places
where we wore our shoes out
looking about for something to find
and sometime soon
I'll have to try

the air at home is full
bursting through the curtains
like ginger incense and sex
I stand before myself and breathe
softly, try to glare
try to tell it "thank you
for making me" but I'm not free
enough to manage that
night wind quiets me
if it comes from the trees
the orchards meet my pulse
as I sit against the sill and
just try to be something

tomorrow morning I think
I will need a vaster sunrise
I can walk free down there
down the road, where I flush
flustered at the facts of being
I could sleep or
I could dream
there used to be a nest
of great horned owls, who
lived in the trees
my body beats softly
I can hear their cries still
my window feels frail
as a gate to everything

this smell is what
every inexplicable thing has
become; my years lived
flowers grown or shells found
you know I love the sea
and fleeing my own waves
I'm bound and have demons to contend
understand, understand
I need you with your troubles
and I want you
who might see me with eyes
and might see this room
in which I've written
and loved and curled in
and feel somehow whole
come home, come home


I'm home, in California. Finally. I'm in love with my state.