His eyes linger bright on my face. They're a glossy, crystalline blue, and his pupils swelling in the poorly-lit jazz club vestibule look like gaps in the ice, revealing impossibly deep waters underneath. He leans agains the door next to a brass umbrella rack and shuffles his Doc Martens on the carpeting-- plain black, Cat the club owner wanted Oriental but jazz has few tenants in suburban Ohio and there was no way she would pay for cheap knockoffs. The light of the hot yellow stage lamps and the shadows of the frenzied band on stage, swerving and flailing as they hammer out some chaotic fusion number I couldn't name, dance across his skin and make his smooth hair shimmer. I am three feet away from him, at an oblique angle from the light, my palm pressed into the door hinge for support. I'll need it, for what I'm about to say.
"Hm?" he mumbles, his voice just the right amount of deep that it sinks under the shrilling trumpets and screaming guitars and over the liquid bass and rumbling drums. Any other moment I would question what I'm about to do right now. A thousand times, in school, in writer's circle, watching his silky hair bob against his green denim jacket as he walked off the bus, I felt the words gather like saliva around my tongue, ready to spew forward all over his chemistry papers or the transluscent hairs on the back of his neck. But they always slid into my trachea, into my lungs, and choked me dead in my spot before I could let them free. And it was just fine, because I didn't want to spit on him, to tarnish an inch of his swinging body or wipe the little smile from his oddball face. He wasn't even hot, I told myself, and yet I absorbed his strange conversations, and listened to the hard bop albums he loaned me, and got his voice stuck in my head. I lingered in the joy of him.
And now, seeing the adorable twist of confusion on his face, that joy floods over me a hundred times over. My breath deepens on a sixteenth note, inhaling the very air he exhaled and tasting soft pretzels, cheap cologne, denim covered in sweat. I feel my lips stretch out like gum, the corners of my mouth dry and expectant, heart buzzing like a succubus hummingbird. My lips open with a barely audible smack, and I stare at his own face, the loveliness of his too-large nose and his perpetually furrowed brow, the slight pretentions of his newsboy cap, the absolute pure picture of calm confusion.
It doesn't matter how he responds, to the words coming out of my throat.
This was the moment when everything was possible.
The Moronsy Capital
Moronsy: A system of government by which holding of power is based around one's complete lack of intelligence and and notable insights. Rather than wealth or social class, individuals compete on the basis of logical fallacies, outrageous attention grabbing, and underhanded deeds.
Three Act Play
“Darling!” Milvanda cried as she found him, bleeding out on the floor. She knelt at William’s body and cradled his head, soothing him as he writhed with pain from the twin gunshot wounds on his chest. “Oh, you’re turning blue, you poor thing... whoever did this to you?”
“My wonderful wife,” William coughed. He touched her cheek. “If only... I could find the name. It was... it was...”
Milvanda leaned in, tearful, yet ready for the name of her vengeance...
But all she received was the barrel of his pistol, rising to her shocked face.
“It was you.”
He saw the assassin waiting in the doorway, out of the corner of his eye from his writing desk. He sighed. The moment had played over and over in his head, yet now that it had arrived, it seemed unreal, like a fever dream.
“Just get it over with,” he told the man, who was obviously trying to conceal a pistol under his bulging blue suit jacket, without turning to make eyes at him. “Don’t bother making it look like an accident, either. We both know why you’re here.”
The assassin’s eyebrows flared in the warm yellow light. “I figured as such. It’s not often a wanted man waits patiently in his office while someone outside is breaking down the door. Tell you what, at first I thought you were with some other lady. Was gonna let you two finish before I took you out.”
William scoffed, so harshly he felt his spit rattle at the back of his throat. “So that’s what she told you, hm? That I’m a cheating man.” He leaned back in his thick red velvet armchair and rolled his golden pen-- For My Darling Wallace, 1994-- between his fingers. “I don’t intend to stop you from carrying out your work, sir. But before you impose yourself upon my hard night’s work, would you at least have the courtesy to hear my side of this sordid little tale?”
The assassin shuffled from foot to foot, confused. It gave William just enough time to clamber very slowly to his feet and get in a nice monologuing position, leaning against his desk like a courtroom lawyer hot into his closing position. At least, it would look like that from the outside. Looking closely you could see he was quivering, muscles weakened with the neurological disease that had collapsed his formerly-muscular frame into a shivering, baggy-suited scarecrow.
“It all started when we first married,” he said, gesturing his arm in a little sneering circle. “Ah, she seemed such a lovely girl in those halcyon days. Beautiful, modest, always singing with that chiming voice of hers. I thought I’d found the love of a thousand lifetimes in that smile, but...”
His fist clenched on the desk. “Soon after we married I felt myself growing ill. At first, oddly enough, I barely minded. I had my angel to look after me in my harshest days, taking me on walks, cooking my meals when I was too weak to stand. So our days passed in leisure, and in spite of my illness I was the happiest man alive. But then I noticed signs. A bottle of rat poison on the counter next to the sugar. The way she would wrap her arms about me, dragging those long scarlet nails about my windpipe. I ignored them. I did not want to add them up into the final equation, the one which would reveal her betrayal once and for all.
“But one day, alas, the equation solved itself. One day while I coughed up blood upon my pillow, I heard her giggling with a man downstairs. ‘Just a bit longer, and we’ll have that sweet life insurance policy his daddy set up,’ her ringing voice chimed through the living room. If only she’d known that it carried up the stairwell as well!”
He paused, to cough into his hand. With the last drops of strength in his frame he stared straight into the assassin’s eyes. “But then, she must have known. So fire, dear boy. She’s outranked me.”
The gunshots rang out. He knew the sound that would come next.
“Darling!” Milvanda cried out...
The yellow light shone on Miranda Brentworth’s fake jewels as she waited in the wings, watching the penultimate scene of her husband Wallace’s latest masterwork, The Golden Pen, stun an audience of unsuspecting matinee idyll idiots. Iydelldiots, she thought, and a guilty little dimple that no script could glean from her etched its way into her cheek. Then she felt his hot breath on her neck and it vanished into her face, lost in a white eruption of makeup.
“What do you think?” he said, peering out past her into the crowd. “Is this the grand comeback of Wallace Brentworth or what? And in just three minutes, your name will be etched into the history of this stage.”
She was silent. Then he drummed his fingers against her shoulder impatiently, his usual air of condescension condensing in his mouth.
“Of course, it would be nice if you thanked me, just once.”
“Why should I thank you? It’s not as if we’re on Broadway or anything.” Miranda watched the subplot on the stage conclude itself. “And anyway, I think this play drags a bit. Did we really need the bumbling detective to drop the case against the wife? It’s just such blatant manipulation, to make it look like the world’s against William. Because of course high society is just so cruel to those poor innocent creative types who go around cutting off their wife’s bank accounts.”
“It’s called a misdirect. Something I think you would know all about, given all that time you spent with Darren the chiropractor on your so-called visit to your mother’s.”
“Oh, so we want to get into deception?” She folded her arms and stared up into her husband’s face-- gray-browed, moony, creased and folded with the passing years. “Then perhaps we should discuss your little white lies about our fincances that got us here in the first place, hm? Or the way you shot our last play in the foot, tiptoeing around the balconies with the theater patron’s wives.”
“Those were all spur of the moment mistakes, Miranda!” Once again, she was silent, and he fiddled angrily at his rented white suit, clutching his fingers around the prop pistol in his breast pocket. “Let me make one thing clear-- everything I did, I did for us. Sure, the affairs were a mistake, but even those were one-offs! Tactical moves to get us to a better place in the patron’s standings, which would have worked if you hadn’t found out and told them all! Unlike you, my dear, my plans are in the service of two people. Not one.”
“Always so good with words.” Miranda sighed, and pulled at the fingers on her long red gloves. “But so blind to the big picture. I never did anything as part of a plan, Wallace. That was all you. All you...”
To that moment she had stayed calm and collected, something which she was very proud of herself for. But then he drove in an unexpected, whispered blow, just as the detective on stage performed some pratfalls that sent the whole audiuence into a cacophany of laughter:
“You’ve been out for yourself ever since you bought me that pen.”
To anyone else who may have been listening it would have seemed a trivial comment. But in the tight warming curtain space backstage, the yellow lights above burning into her head, it was so shocking that Miranda could not bring herself to make any expression at all.
“Don’t be coy. You remember...”
“Our first fight.” She turned away from him towards backstage, squeezing her eyes shut to stop her tears from smudging her mascara. “It was such a silly mistake, Wallace. I didn’t know it was so expensive...”
“Five hundred dollars of our own money. On our first anniversery, when it could have bought me a writing desk.” He pulled the dreaded object out of his pocket and twirled it like a baton in front of her nose. “And you couldn’t even get the year of our wedding right.”
“Why can’t you ever let things go?” Her voice was a bare whisper, vanishing into the fading lights above. It was almost time for the scene’s transition and in her mind she wished that he would leave right then. But the stagehands needed to move the chairs and tables, and she was left with him, in that little curtained row next to the stage, imprisoned. “I loved you then, and I thought it would please you.”
“Because I know you,” he said, dreadfully plain in that writerly way. “Always getting in the way of our dreams.”
She forced herself to glare at him as the stagehands rushed past them, and he whirled around in his jacket (it was a size too big and still had the tag on the inside) and took off in the opposite direction, anger shaking his whole body. He sat down in his desk, adjusted the “gun” in his pocket, and in the little moment in time where the lights shifted became William Brandington, the wealthy but put-upon businessman targeted by his shrew of a wife and her hired hand.
Miranda turned away from him and peered out into the backstage, where the stage hands, kids in black t-shirts, were all high-fiving and hugging each other for their job well done. A few were sneaking pizzas and boxed wine in through the stage door, which was propped open with a wooden wedge and had posters for the Three Blind Mice elementary school play emblazoned across it. The night outside was bright and starry, and spotlit by a romantic little street lamp like the ones they used to walk under. A long time ago, before they were even married. Before the score-keeping started.
She could walk out, she thought, just walk out in her rhinestone jewels and her stage-costume fairy princess dress and there was nothing he could do about it. It would be just what he deserved.
But then she turned to him, weak and sickly in his imaginary rage, and still rolling that pen in her hand as he spoke to the “assassin” she’d supposedly sent after him. What would it hurt to just finish the play? All of these rubes wanted to know how the story ended, and hell, she would give them a show. She would not be remembered as another poorly resolved plot thread in the life of Wallace Brentworth. She was an actress, and if she had to pretend to be invested in him just one last time, she would do it. For the audience. Not for him.
The gunshot sound went off. She grinned at the sound, a goofy pop that some high school kid had sampled from a video game, and transformed into Mrs. Milvanda Brandington as she rushed into the yellow lights.
“Darling!” Miranda cried out as she rushed to him, bleeding ketchup out on the floor. She knelt at Wallace’s sprawled-out body and cradled his head, soothing him as he writhed with pain from the imagined twin gunshot wounds on his chest. “Oh, you’re turning blue, you poor thing... whoever did this to you?”
“My wonderful wife,” William coughed, taking in the moment. He ran his finger across her cheek, and she summoned her last remaining bits of love for him into an expression of pained sorrow that the kids in the back could see. “If only... I could find the name. It was... it was...”
Milvanda leaned in. Yes, go ahead, say it was me. Let out all that anger in your heart once and for all, so we can get out of this silly show once and for all.
But then she saw the pistol emerge from her husband’s pocket. And she knew, in a single moment of horror, that she would not emerge into the starry street. He was ending this story for her... and there was no door to pin her hopes to this time.
“It was you.” His face was dead as he pulled the trigger.
The crowd went wild with shock. No one could believe it. How real the gunshot had sounded as it echoed across the auditorium! How vivid the shower of blood that she collapsed into! It was as if the whole budget had gone into ending the show with a bang, one which would be etched into their memories forever.
The crowd erupted into thundrous applause as the curtain fell. And only those in front, the shorter ones closer to the stage’s bottom, would have noticed that the blood gushing from Milvanda’s chest was more viscouous and profuse than that of her husband’s, that her expression was far too ghoulish and pained even for an accomplished ex-professional actress such as herself. It wasn’t until the second shot went off that the stagehands saw what had happened. And by then, it was too late. Miranda and Wallace Brentworth lay bleeding out on the floor, the golden pen For My Darling Wallace lying stained in their mingled blood.
I'm a business owner, a self-made woman, a true queen. When people come into my store they look at the little chalkboard I have hanging over the dashboard and the fake little succulents at each table, and they close their eyes in line as lilting folk songs float in from the speakers above. "This is such a peaceful place," they say to me, before they go sprawl out at the tables with their sugarcane-sweetened ginger tea. "You must be so happy working here."
They don't know what I go through. Every morning at 4 AM I'm stewing that ginger tea in a massive pot while I grind the coffee beans with my other hand and scrub the floor down with my foot. I rewrite the entire menu by hand because my four-year-old son decided to play with the chalk, which only makes sense because it's the weekend and his dad is out of town with his latest fling. I run down to Lowe's and pray that they still have leftover succulents in the garden section because some sensory-deprived college kid yesterday pulled all the leaves off of the one at Table 9. And most of the day, with the constant sound traffic of whirring machines and smoke detectors and kids talking and my sneakers squeaking across the wet tile, I can never hear Bon Iver or the Lumineers over it.
They all see the peace, but they don't see how much it hurts to make it.
I died five days ago. Unfortunately for me, I'm still stuck here, watching the stairwell out of very dry eyes, feeling like I ought to take a nice deep breath, only my windpipe got cut off from that fall down the stairs so I guess that's out of the question. And once in a while, I feel odd sensations. Th complete freezing cold as my body lost heat. The rigor mortus rippling through my arms and legs.
And of course, Mimsie's teeth. Eating my cheek.
I don't think she wanted to do it. Mimsie has been my best and only friend since I was a kid. She was the sweetest little kitty from the time she was a baby, and I spent an hour after work daily rubbing her and giving her food from a can. She was my only companion through changing boyfriends and useless layoffs. She was always very neat and stuck to her own food, and the occasional table scraps from me.
When I first passed away she cried for days. Two days, to be exact, if the sun rising and falling through the window was any indication. She bumped up against my legs, as if begging me to wake up. She sat near me almost as if she was mourning, right above me between my outstretched legs on the stairs. Ah, you're such a good girl, I thought, staring lifelessly up at her. Surely you'll watch over me like a good little angel.
But, unfortunately, Mimsie is a creature of instinct. And to her, dead means dead, especially if the dead creature's meat is tender and starting to smell quite appetizing after four days of having licked one's last bowl clean. So she started off on me-- first just nibbling at my fingers, then taking big chunks off of my cheeks, thighs and back. I don't feel much more than the little pinpricks, but it still feels like such an insult. I gave you everything, I thought venomously at her yesterday as she was yanking my left big toe off, and now you decide to just pick me clean for every last scrap. Lovely creature.
But I can't close my eyes. I can't even move my head to get a better view. All I can do is stare the same fixed stare I always did, thinking about how stupid it was that I was walking around in one high heel down stairs, hearing the stupid phone ring over and over again with spam calls I can't cancel. Wondering if the date I was going to meet really was the love of my life. He had such nice eyes, I remember. I wonder if he'll think how strange it was that I ghosted him after I seemed so excited to meet him. If only I could ghost him, at least I could let him know that I was inconvenienced.
But I don't take it personally. Someday soon my mom's going to think, "my, Charlene isn't returning my calls, maybe I should check on her", and she'll finally come here to look for me, and she'll see what that little twit did to me. Then they'll bury me nice and cozy in some big oak box and I can go into that long sleep I've been promised. And I can get out of this terrible rotting body, and the smells and the aches and cramps and horrible stickiness in my wrinkled gelatin eyes.
Until then, there's only one thing I can do.
Try to ignore my cat's godawful sharp teeth.
Most of all I remember the Australians. They always seemed so overjoyed whenever they found those big purple bags in the back of the store under the Kinder.
"We only found these back home," they said, their voices beaming as I shoved the bags of honeycomb candy into another layer of plastic. "And we were so glad that we could find them here, we didn't even know they existed in America. It's nice to have a reminder of home, with the travel ban and all that. Thank you."
I never really had a reason to thank them. I only worked the register; I didn't fly the cargo plane or drive the shipping boat or drag boxes from the truck into the warehouse, or even put the candy out on the shelves. But I did all I could to make their endless stay something of sweetness. Like honey, I tried to be transparent and sweet, and keep the golden color of my innocence.
Then the store closed. It wasn't anything in our control-- just a corporate buyout, cutting off my job right as it was getting good. I didn't know what I could do to lift my spirits. I tried to keep myself uplifted for the people in line, but how can you do that when you're considering the rest of your life? So I did the one thing that always made me better-- I bought food. Specifically, a bag of honeycomb candy.
There were a lot of good things about that candy. The chocolate coating, the crystalline way it twinkled when you bit into it, the way it dissolved in your mouth. But to me, it was a lifeline-- an invisible string tying me to the people I'd served, the ones whose lives I'd hopefully sweetened just a little bit. Above all else, I hope that they've made their way home.
Roses are red
Violets are blue
Sugar you called me
I didn't see through
The thorns of your smile
When you promised me love
And thinking I needed you
I put you above
My hopes and dreams
The things I would buy
I saved up my money
For the "you-and-I" prize
But as the engagement
Came close to its bloom,
I found her in sunflowers
Kissing the groom
The white-wedding dreaming,
The taste of your sweet--
All shriveling petals
That fell at my feet
Roses are dead
True love is blue
Why deal with your crap
When I can buy shoes?
The Painful Bright
Three days without sleep. Every night I've gone to bed with hope in my heart that tonight I would finally succumb to the vagaries of night, let everything slip into the shadows of my consciousness. But the memories keep me awake. Of me going with my Hello Kitty flashlight into my mother's room to look for a missing slipper, finding instead a strange man in leather leaning over her on the bed. Of her screaming at me to leave, throwing a patent leather heel at me as I slammed the door shut on myself. Of the blinding light of my flashlight seeping in under my eyelashes as I leaned my head against the wall, numb from the horror I'd just experienced.
And finally, of my mother telling me to keep it to myself. Or else.
My dad has tried to help me. Every night he sits with me for a while, making me a cup of milk and stroking my back as I sob. He thinks it's only the depression that eats away at my heart, and he says that when the light comes out in the morning, it will be all better.
But I fear the sun. I fear the horrible headaches it gives me as the ceiling turns from dark to light, another night of rest lost. I fear the blinding glow it gives the sidewalks and the dark floaters it smudges onto my eyes. I fear the way it gets into everything-- the crevices in the house, the places where I keep things hidden. My mother's face, guiltless and dark, ignoring my father's jokes and prattling. I fear her too.
But most of all, I fear what will happen if I pull back the curtain, and let the light in on her.