Anxiety is Kinda of Like
You sweat like you ran five miles
But you didn’t
You barely walked from one classroom to another
Pits damper than a swamp
And stench worse too
You think everyone can smell it, even as it dries
So you clump down your arms
And now you’re sweating about anxiety sweats
God, I should have worn more deodorant
~you five minutes after reapplying it
Now, you’re rifling through your backpack
Searching for something you saw in there five minutes ago
Because what if a magic elf stole it in that time?
It could happen
You can’t wear nail polish anymore
Even though it’s soo pretty
Because what if
You swallow some while chewing on your nails
That could kill you, you know
Now your fingers are tapping
Along the metal bus stop
As you watch the bus drive away
It was too crowded
Even though there were seats left
They just have people next to them
It’s easier this way
So you slouch against the bench seat
Eyelids finally heavier than your thoughts
You’re so fucking tired
Tired of sweating, searching, chewing, worrying
But when you wake
You know you’ll do it all again
Because it was never a choice
My Parents are Worse Than Tinder Dates with Knives
“Looking up at stars can be very romantic,” I told my Tinder date—I don’t remember her name—as I glanced at the stars above us. “It can be, truly, but it’s a very… um… situational ‘can’. But, there are times where it’s not. For instance—and I’m just spitting ideas here—when they’re in the center of pentagons…” I squinted at the basement’s ceiling. “Written in either blood or jam—either way it’s not coming out, which is a huge other nightmare in its own right.”
She strolled over to be with two glasses of wine in her hands. I got the fullier one since she had already drank half of hers. “That’s good, I’m not planning on getting rid of them any time soon.”
I refused to look down and make eye-contact with her. “Well… if you’re renting this apartment I would recommend researching some good cleaners online. I can send you a list of my top ten cleaning products if you want.”
“Pass,” she whispered in a voice like liquid ecstasy as she scooted closer to me.
My date reached out and gripped my chin, running her fingers over the stubble I forgot to shave as she forced me to meet her gaze.
“Besides…” She purposefully spilled her wine on the white carpet underneath us. I cringed, but she kept talking. “I’m looking to be dirty tonight.”
Slowly, my eyes drifted over her body, and I noticed how every inch of her tight clothes highlighted her curves. Her eyes were hypnotizing, and her lips were fuller than the moon. I guess most people would refer to her as sexy.
“Miss,” I said.
She giggled and bit her bottom lip. “Miss? Are we doing a student-teacher fantasy? I could get into that.”
“You are an aesthetically pleasing woman,” I told her, “but as I wrote on my profile, I’m not looking for a serious relationship or sexual hook-up—just a date to my twin sister’s wedding. This is a trial date, not a one night stand.”
She laughed. “Oh, come on. You were serious about that?”
I stood and walked towards the door. “Yup.”
“So you just walked out???” My best friend laughed so hard he was wheezing over his burger. A few people at surrounding tables in the food court gave him the death glare for being so loud, but he didn’t seem to notice. “What was her face like?”
“I don’t know, I was looking at the door.”
His hand slammed against the table as he snorted. “Oh man, I bet she was pissed!”
“Maybe,” I said without looking up from my phone.
“You know,” he snatched the phone from my hand, “it’s rude to be on your phone during a meal.”
“Richard, give it back!”
“After, I see what’s taking all of your attenti—” He stopped talking the minute his eyes fell on the screen. “Tinder, again? Dear god, how many people have you swiped right on?”
“Literally everyone that’s come across my screen.” I said as I stole the phone back.
“Uh huh. And how many physios have you met?”
“I wouldn’t call them ‘physios’, exactly,” I mumbled. “Out of twenty-two dates: four cultists, five cheaters, and one sex offender. Oh, and some girl pulled a knife on me because I looked at the waitress taking our order.”
“But, another girl baked me a cake when I told her the story about knife girl that said ‘sorry, but not all girls are physios’.”
“Not really. She was one of the cheaters and had originally written ‘sorry, for cheating’, before her ex-boyfriend dumped her.”
Richard looked at me with pity.
“I’m desperate, okay? You’re lucky to already have a girlfriend to take,” I snapped. “The rehearsal dinner is on Friday. I already told them I’m bringing a date, which leaves me three days to find one.” I kept swiping. “I just need someone my parents won’t nag at me for dating. Or at the very least, someone who can lie well enough so my parents won’t realize they should be nagging at me for dating.”
“You’re never gonna find someone like that in time.”
“Don’t worry. I have a back-up plan. I figured I could always hire a cheap actress or an escort for the night.”
“Or you could find someone you’re actually interested in having a relationship with and taking them to the wedding.”
“No, that wouldn’t work. This is better.”
Richard slouched back in his chair. “Thinking about it, I’ve never actually met anyone you’ve dated…”
“Neither has anyone in my family—that’s why I need to bring a date. It’s a tradition in my family to get married by twenty-five. And there’s my twenty-five-year-old twin sister about to get married to the love of her life, meanwhile I’ve never brought a girl home once. If I don’t show up with a date to at least prove that I’m capable of dating, they’ll do some arranged marriage shit like it’s a Middle Ages.”
“That doesn’t seem reasonable.”
“My mother is forcing my sister to wear her great-grandmother’s silk wedding dress for the sake of tradition even though she has a rare silk allergy.” My phone pinged as someone finally matched with me. “Being ‘reasonable’ was never an option.”
While waiting for Leena, my new Tinder date, to arrive, I fiddled with my soda’s straw.
“I’m here,” a voice called out from behind me. I twisted around to see a white girl in a sweater with ‘Jesus’ knitted on it doing an apologetic sorry-for-being-late-but-I’m-not- running jog across the street to the outdoor cafe.
“Are you Leena?” I asked.
She plopped down beside me. “Yeah. Joshua?”
I eyed her sweater for a little too long, because she noticed and said, “your profile said you needed a date to take to your religious family’s wedding, so…” She panned her hand under ‘Jesus’. “Religious enough, huh?”
I snorted and choked on my soda as I laughed. “Maybe not wear it to the wedding. Where you raised Christian?”
“Nah. Actually, I’m an atheist, but also a damn good liar. But, my parents sent me to a Christian boarding school when I was 15. That’s when I became an atheist—and a damn good liar.”
I cracked a smile. “You’re funny. I think you would get along with my dad.”
“Great, it’s always been a dream of mine to impress strict, conservative fathers.”
“So, what is your reason for going to the wedding?”
Leena raised an eyebrow. “Are you really that suspicious of me?”
“A week ago, I met a girl who wanted to go to the wedding because she was the groom’s ex-girlfriend and she wanted to lie to him about being pregnant so he would go back to her.”
“That’s twisted—but as for my reason, I happen to love eating expensive salmon dinners paid for by irritating people.”
I smiled as my muscles relaxed. “Alright then. Now, do you have any lavender dresses that would match my tie?”
Already in full swing, the rehearsal dinner buzzed around us as my sister cheek-kissed everyone who shared an ounce of DNA with her or her fiance. Meanwhile, I tugged at my tie as Leena eyed the waiters bringing out fondue pots. “Hey, you okay?” She asked.
“Never better,” I lied, as I adjusted my arms to hide my sweat stains.
“Is this about your parents?” She scanned the restaurant’s floor for anyone that looked like a judgy, aged version of me.
I didn’t even have the time to lie before a voice said, “Is this your girlfriend, Joshua?”
I spun around to see my mother and father looming over me. “Yeah,” I choked out.
My mother upturned her nose. “About time you finally date a girl and bring her home.”
“Although,” my father chimed in, “that Merryweather’s daughter is going to be awfully disappointed.”
“After we spent so much time talking you up to her.” My mother scoffed. “And there was so much to talk up. Plus, that venue we were about to book is never going to open up again. What a waste.”
“We thought we were never going to find anyone for you. Anyone acceptable that is.”
My ear tips flared pink. Not because of shame or embarrassment, but because of anger. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Leena’s eyes narrow and I could practically hear the gears grinding. I flashed her a warning don’t-do-it face, and she took a deep breath and bit her tongue like I’ve been doing for the past twenty-five years.
“I mean, I’m not homophobic or anything,” I mean, you definitely are, I thought to myself. “But look at how happy your sister is, marrying someone who isn’t a sin.” My mother said.
Again, I begged Leena with my eyes not to attack this woman like a feral animal.
“So when are you getting married, Joshua?” My father asked.
“Soon! Soon,” I lied and went to take a swig from my champagne, only to find the glass empty.
“I’ll get us new drinks,” Leena said. “Excuse me.”
I gulped as she walked away because while the words she said were appropriate, she said them with an animosity to commit murder. Not third-degree murder out of frustration, but like she was going to start planning an ‘accident’ the moment this dinner was over.
“Oh look, there’s someone who you...” Haven’t insulted yet, I thought. “Haven’t talked to yet,” I said instead, then I ducked out of the conservation and walked over to Richard.
“Having fun?” I asked him.
“Depends on your definition of fun.” Richard said as he looked at Leena talking to a bridesmaid that snagged her attention on her way to getting drinks. “But it looks like you’ll be having fun later on because damn you’re date is hot.”
“Oh, she’s hot, Richard?” His girlfriend, Amanda, crept up behind him with a glass of champagne in her hand. I kept a close eye on it in case she motioned to throw it.
Richard choked over his words. “Smoking… like she’s burning because she’s a witch. A witch and a bitch. What a whore.” He took a swig of his liquor to shut himself up.
“Ah huh,” she teased with a smile on her lips.
I relaxed a little. I guess Amanda isn’t the jealous type.
Amanda glanced at the bridesmaid laughing her head off at whatever Leena whispered in her ear, then turned to me. “So, Leena seems nice.”
“Yeah,” I said. “She’s funny, too.”
“You like her?”
“She’d be a cool person to befriend, I guess. Though, she does seem a bit angry…”
“Friend?!” Richard said. “Dude, no. She’s on Tinder, she’s single, she’s hot, she’s nice, she’s funny… just ask her out already.”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m just not… attracted to her.” I held my head down, really missing not having a drink to slam these feelings down with.
Richard patted me on the back. “Don’t worry, buddy, there’s a million fish in the sea. You’ll find someone.”
“But what if I don’t want to find someone?”
Richard laughed. “I’ve been there. Thought I was done with love after my last girlfriend cheated on me. That was… until I met my sweet Amanda-kins. Ain’t that right, Amanda-kins.”
“That’s right, babe,” she said as she pulled him in for a kiss.
They looked like they were gonna be busy swallowing each other for a while, so I told them, “I’m gonna get a drink.”
After I emptied a new glass of champagne, Leena came up to the waiter I was standing by and took one for herself. “So, what was that about?” I asked her.
“I’m thirsty,” she said.
“That’s not what I’m talking about and you know it.”
“They were being assholes to you and you know it.” She slammed her drink. “And you just let them.” She picked up another drink off the tray of the waiter we were basically holding hostage with our need to get drunk as fast as possible.
“Look, I don’t need you getting offended by my belief like I’m some too shy Christian choirboy who’s afraid of his own shadow because one: I never took choir. And two: I’m a grown man who can stand up for himself. I’m just trying to avoid a scene at my sister’s wedding.”
“What you’re doing is letting them belittle you for taking your time to find someone you like.”
“I don’t know why you’re making such a big deal about this now—I told you they were going to be this bad going in.”
“Their homophobic asses were trying to set up an arranged marriage for you at age twenty-five! Call me crazy, but that’s a little too soon. I mean just because you’ve never dated, never wanted to date before, and don’t get married now doesn’t mean you won’t later on. Everyone falls in love at different rates with whatever gender they please!”
“Or,” I slammed the empty glass back on the tray, then ushered an apology to the waiter for slamming a glass onto his tray. “They don’t fall in love at all!” I lectured in a hushed voice, because again, I’m still trying to avoid a scene. “And I’m tired of people saying I will when I don’t want to.”
With that I spun around, and walked straight out of the restaurant. With a starry sky lighting my way, I trudged down the sidewalk before plopping down in a depressed lump at a bus stop. I was too drunk to drive, but not too dignified to take the bus.
Footsteps followed me to the bus stop. “Leena, I really don’t feel like talking right now.”
“My name isn’t Leena,” a male voice said.
I twisted around to see the waiter whose tray I slammed standing behind me. “Sorry again for slamming that glass on your tray.”
“No worries,” he said as he sat beside me.
“Not to be rude, but shouldn’t you be working right now?”
“Nah, I got Tiffany to cover for me for a minute or two.”
“I don’t know who Tiffany is, but okay.”
“Listen, I couldn’t help but over your conversation with… Leena was it?”
“Oh my god.” I covered my face with my hands. “Don’t tell me you’re here to tell me that ‘there’s someone out there for you, you just haven’t met the right person yet’ spiel, are you?”
“Nah, I’m here to ask you a question. If you don’t mind.”
“Okay, what is it?”
“Do you know what asexuality and aromantic are?”
“Uhhh… no? Never heard of them.”
The waiter chuckled. “I thought so. Well, asexuality is when a person experiences little or no sexual attraction to anyone. Being aromantic means a person experiences little or no romantic attraction to anyone.”
“So, are you trying to say you think I’m asexual and aromantic based off a five minute conversation you overheard?”
“I’m not saying anything except no matter what you do or don’t identify as, you’re still valid no matter what others say.” He stood and brushed off his pants. “I should be getting back.”
“Asexual and aromantic, huh?” I said to myself once he was gone. It sounded right.
I let my body go limp as I relaxed every muscle in my body. My body hugged the curve of the bench as my head rested on its top, my eyes staring into the starry night star. Off in the corner of my vision I spotted the North Star. While all of the other stars huddled together, the North Star stood on its own. Alone.
But that didn’t make it any less bright.
I still think that looking up at stars can be romantic, but right now, they're not. But, it doesn’t make them any less beautiful.
Justice is Not the Name of It
I should have lied, I thought as I glanced around the cold, boring courtroom.
Okay, admittedly, that’s not the best thought to have in a courtroom, but I’m just the juror who didn’t lie on the questionaire that allowed me to get picked for this murder case. I tapped my fingers against the oak wood of the jury box as the petite defendant limped into the room on grey heels and in a dingy, old dress that covered nearly every inch of her skin. Looking down at my outfit, I noted that we have the same style
—hide as much as pale skin as we can with clothes. The defendant winced as she sat down beside her court-appointed lawyer, but no one made an effort to help her.
At her private table, the prosecutor in a cocky, pinstripe pantsuit took a seat and grinned into her briefcase. A wealthy family with upturned noses sat behind her. Some of them wept into silk handkerchiefs, but I felt no sympathy for them.
The judge was the last to enter, letting his robe flutter behind him as he walked. “All rise,” the bailiff said. “Court is now in session.”
In the jury room, my fingers moved in rhythm while I listened to the other eleven jurors discuss the evidence. I only stopped when a piece of dark red nail polish flaked off. Pulling my hand inside my long-sleeved sweater, I made a mental note to book a salon appointment later.
“I don’t know why we’re still discussing this,” a juror said as he swept some of his blond hair out of his eyes to see the evidence better. “She’s obviously guilty.”
Juror #8, our chair juror, piped up in a squeaky voice like a mouse. “I just want to go over all the facts again. We’ve hardly been here for half an hour and you already want to convict a twenty-two year of first-degree murder."
Blond Juror scoffed and glanced over at her while Mouse Juror cleared her throat. “The defendant is Emila Knuff. She worked as a waitress for three years before meeting the victim, Julien Linscott, the only son of the billionaire Linscott family. They dated for two years before marrying.”
“Gold digger,” a red-beard, Scottish-looking, juror mumbled from the other end of the table.
Mouse Juror continued. “On the day before their one year anniversary, the housekeeper found Julien dead, sprawled across their marriage bed. He died from blood loss due to fifteen stab wounds to his chest and lower abdomen. There were signs of struggle from the broken lamp by the bed stand.” Mouse Juror laid out a photograph of the scene on the table. “But no signs of forced entry. All the windows and doors were locked, plus nothing was stolen, which rules out a burglar.”
“Just the theft of Julien’s inheritance,” Scottish Juror said. “Emila probably killed him for his money.”
“Doubt it,” Juror #2 said, or Second Juror as I decided to call him. “Most marriages like this have a prenup, and, based on her outfit, I’d say it hadn’t run out yet by the time Julien was killed.”
Glaring at Second Juror, Scottish Juror growled. “Her outfit could have been a ruse, made to make us think she was poor—proving yet again, what a thieving, conniving, evil mastermind she is!”
“An evil mastermind wouldn’t use a court-appointed lawyer when defending against murdering a rich family’s son,” Second Juror said.
“She’s guilty!” Scottish Juror exclaimed.
“We haven’t finished going over all the evidence yet,” Second Juror said. “Let juror #8 finish for Christ’s sake.”
Mouse Juror cleared her throat. “The housekeeper, gardener, and personal chef all testify that they were requested to be gone from the estate around five p.m.—the time of the murder. The police found the murder weapon—a steak knife covered in Julien’s dried blood—buried shallowly with some cigarette butts in a house plant in Emila’s private bathroom.”
“It does seem pretty cut and dry,” Scottish Juror said..
“What about motive?” Second Juror asked.
I looked up as he said that. What about motive? I thought. The only one we were offered was the lukewarm claim about money, but that didn’t settle right with me.
At one point, the question of an affair had come into play, but the Linscott family immediately stood up and denied it. They claimed that so much as suggesting such a thing was slander against their good name, until the judge ordered them to sit down and stay quiet during trial.
“Maybe they were going to divorce? And she couldn’t stand the thought of it?” Scottish Juror said.
“There’s no history of marital problems. All of the house staff testified that they seemed like a perfectly happy couple,” Second Juror said.
“What if she secretly hated him? Then one day, the hate got too strong and she just… snapped?” Blond Juror asked.
“No, the cook said that the knife found with Julien’s blood was missing for several days before the murder. Whoever did this planned it out—poorly planned it out, but still planned it.” Second Juror said. “It wasn’t a ‘spur of the moment’ type deal.”
“It’s obvious the only thing that girl hates is heels! Did you see the way she limped in them? Ridiculous,” Scottish Juror said.
“All of these motive theories are under the assumption that she did kill him. If we have to make up reasons for it, then it’s unlikely that we ourselves even believe that she’s guilty,” Mouse Juror said.
“The evidence is the one claiming she’s guilty, not us,” Blond Juror said as Mouse Juror bowed her head, to hide a disheartened expression “But if you’re so sure, let’s take a vote. All those who think Emila is guilty?”
Eleven to one. Guilty.
Everyone’s eyes turned to me, for sitting silently and keeping my hands down.
Scottish Juror groaned. “Oh come on, really? If you just agree, we can all go home.”
I crossed my arms and stuck out my lip. “Pass.”
“Do you really still think Emila didn’t kill Julien?” Mouse Juror asked.
“Nope, she definitely did.” I leaned forward. “However, I think she’s already been punished so it wouldn’t be fair to convict her.”
“What are you talking about?” Blond Juror asked.
“I’m saying Emila Knuff did kill Julien Linscott, but we shouldn’t convict her,” I said.
“Why the hell not?” Scottish Juror grumbled.
“Because Julien abused her. Murder was the only way out.” I said.
“That would answer the motive question…” Second Juror mumbled.
“What makes you think Julien abused her?” Mouse Juror asked.
“She limped into the court house, but that couldn’t have been from the heels. If she’s been married to a high society fellow like Julien, then she would have been used to shoes like that. And, when she sat down, I noticed her wince. Her long clothes are also probably hiding injuries from him.” I said.
“That’s an assumption, not a fact,” Blond Juror said.
“More of an… educated guess, really,” I shot back.
He squinted at me, opened his mouth to speak when Scottish Juror slammed the table. “That doesn’t make any sense! Why not bring up the abuse in the case? Say it was self defense?”
“It was,” I said. “She must have stashed the knife to defend herself. Then last time Julien hurt her, she must have fought back—”
“Which would explain the signs of struggle…” Mouse Juror said.
“But why wouldn’t she bring it up? Use it in her case?” Second Juror asked.
“Reputation,” I said.
Mouse Juror cocked her head to the side. “I hardly think she’s trying to protect her reputation here.”
“Not her reputation, the Linscotts’,” I said, “remember how furious they got when a possible affair was mentioned? They’d destroy anything that tarnished their good name—including mentions of abuse. Emila’s probably terrified of the consequences. Even if she avoided jail, she won’t be able to avoid their wrath for revealing their son’s dark past. That’s also what’s probably prevented her from coming forward beforehand, or escaping.”
“What about the house staff’s testimonies of a perfect marriage?” Scottish Juror asked.
“Lies. Probably paid off.” I said.
“So?” Scottish Juror leaned back in his chair. “You already admitted you agree that she killed him—and had intent to at least harm him by stashing the knife. Let’s just pronounce her guilty and leave.”
“No. That girl already suffered three years of abuse and only killed him to be free.” I said.
“Murder is murder!” Scottish Juror exclaimed as he stood. “That’s the law!”
I matched his standing figure so fast my chair knocked over. “The law can’t account for everything. New situations are constantly forming. Nothing is black and white. That’s why they have juries in court systems. You need a human heart in these kinds of situations.”
“Maybe we should ask the judge for a mistrial and start again based on this new idea...we aren’t getting anywhere...” Mouse Juror suggested.
“And let her face the same repercussions from the Linscotts’ by keeping quiet? The less people who find out about this, the better.” I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, sat back down, and folded my hands neatly on the table. “Chances are no one is going to realize what she’s been through. If given the chance through mistrial, the Linscotts will cover this up. Acquitting Emila is her best option—”
“Best option? Best option? Sure, it’s best for every murderer to get off scot-free, but that’s not what’s best for everyone else. She needs to pay for what she’s done. Learn a lesson before she can hurt anyone else. There’s a grieving family out there who just lost their son… they expect justice or some kind of closure.”
“And Emila has a family that worries about her all the same,” I countered. I opened my eyes and gazed at Scottish Juror. “Scottish Juror,” I said.
“I’m not Scottish…”
“I understand that you believe people should abide by the laws,” I said. “They protect innocents. They’re important to follow. However, the law has already failed to protect Emila once, and if we sentence her, that’ll be us failing her. She’s not dangerous or a crazy psychopath, she’s a scared twenty-two year old girl just trying to survive. How is that a crime? We have to acquit her.”
Everyone stayed quiet for a minute before Second Juror asked. “Shall we take another vote then?”
Twelve to zero. Innocent.
I should have lied, I thought again as I left the courthouse. Tugging down my sweater again to cover the cigarettes’ butts burns from my ex-boyfriend that dotted my arms, I exhaled a shaky breath. They were the same type as the ones I spotted on Emila’s arms outside the courthouse, before I was selected for the jury on her trial.
“Do you have any bias in this case?” The pinstripe prosecutor had asked me before the case began.
“No,” I had lied.
I should have lied, my thoughts repeated, trying to justify it to myself as I walked past Julien’s sobbing mother.
My eyes fixated on my clipped red nail polish. I held it to the boundless sky and let it glint in sunlight. I had always preferred red since the day I killed him. Looks just like his blood under my nails. The constant reminder that I was finally free felt… perfect.
I should have lied.
And I’m glad I did.
There are Worse Ways to Know Death
I first met him at birth. Imagine it. My mother, covered in blood, sweat, and pee after five hours of active labor, desperate to get rid of the things in her uterus. I came out first. Followed by a stillborn twin.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” the doctor said as he handed off my twin to a nurse.
They ushered Felix--as they would have named him--to a cuddle cot while they cleaned me off.
A little while later, the nurses came back with Felix and I… and a camera. Family photos were actually a common practice with stillborns.
As the poor nurse gritted her teeth and tried to take a decent photo, I cried, my mother cried, my father cried, Felix’s body continued to exist, and a stranger stood quietly in the back corner of the wall cuddling a newborn baby boy. Unintentionally caught by the camera lens. I never got his name; then again, I didn’t exactly understand language at the time.
The photo now rests on the mantle above my parent’s fireplace behind a picture of me with a cake covered face on my sixth birthday. No one’s ever mentioned the man in the photograph and I probably would have let the mysterious encounter go--had that been the only time we’ve ever met.
When I was eight, I saw him again at that park next to the highway. You know, that crappy park parents go to when they’re tired from their kids, but don’t want to drive all the way across town to that good park with the new swing sets. Every city has one.
That day, I played with my new friend, Lola, as we chased around her new red, rubber ball around the park. We were giggling and tripping, getting a few scraps and bruises. At one point, someone’s dog had sunk their teeth into it and ran off. So, we chased. Like a cat following a mouse. The only difference was cats have nine lives they can waste. We don’t.
To save his treasure, the dog darted across the highway. Lola followed, while I went back to my mother who called my name. Even without me, it was a fun party for three: the dog, Lola, and the driver who ran her over.
I didn’t see exactly what happened. Only heard the screeching of the tires and the screeching of Lola’s father. The dog got away with the ball and Lola’s parents instantly loathed me being alive, and I saw him again across the highway. His back was turned to me, but I still recognized him. He stood next to someone young enough to be his daughter. They never crossed the street or turned around; instead they walked away.
Maybe he took her to the good park across town.
By some rare chance, our paths crossed again on my twenty-first birthday. Already hard-core wasted by the time he showed up, I could barely recognise him. For my twenty-first birthday, my friend, Chad, threw a party for me at his frat house. Before I knew it, four in the morning rolled around with half the people already passed out while the music stayed loud and the drinks stayed fast.
I slammed down a shot glass from some kid’s souvenir collection said to my roommate, “I know that guyyy.”
She chugged another beer. “What guyyy???”
“Ummmm…. I don’t know his name but…” I pointed a wobbly finger at him during shots with my friend Chad in the corner “Him. That guy.”
My roommate laughed. “Haha! That’s Chad you idiot everyone knows him.”
“No, next to him!”
She squinted, real hard at the corner. “Mallory, there’s no one else there. Girl, how drunk are you???”
“What??” I shouted over the music. “I can’t hear you!”
“You know what? You should go talk to Chad! He’s been checking you out all semester!”
She pushed me forward. “Go get yourself a hot piece of ass, girl!”
And I did. Or at least tried to. Chad and I went from grinding together to blacking out together. I woke up the next morning covered in his vomit and laying next to his dead body.
The stranger had left by morning. And I never caught his name.
The first time that stranger ever spoke to me was the night my marriage ended. Visiting hours were nearly over, and outside his hospital door I rested on a visitors’ bench as my eyes drooped. In my right hand, I clutched a container of pills I thought would help, but haven’t brought myself to take any yet. A few nurses tried to ask me to leave, and a few nurses got their heads chewed off by me. So, I stayed.
Sometime around eight, I saw him walking through the hallway carrying a bouquet of black roses. I eyed him from the bench when he sharply turned right and stopped outside my husband’s door. Maybe it was the stress, or sleep deprivation, but as I saw him try to enter, a snarl grew on my lips and I smacked my hand across the door, blocking him. “Are you a doctor?” I snapped.
“Do you know my husband?”
“Then why are you here?”
“Why are you blocking my path?”
“Because you’re cursed. You didn’t think I would realize it, but I did!” I snarled. “Wherever you go you bring misfortune.”
His eyes filled with grief as he looked down at me. “No,” he said, “ I only follow it.”
“But, you’ve been following me…?”
He didn’t reply, but I could see the truth in his eyes.
“Aren’t you going to ask my name?” He asked to break the silence as I stared down at the orange container in my hand.
I gripped the pills so hard my fingers turned white. “No… I think I already know it.”
“Do you wish you didn’t?” he asked. “Do you wish we stayed strangers?”
I waited to answer.
“No,” I said at last, unscrewing the lid. Took a couple of tries with my shaking hands. Stupid child-proof caps. “It’s not so lonely when you’re going with a new friend.”
I swallowed about half of them without water as I heard an army of nurses’ storming towards me. I could only assume they were here to chew off my head this time, but I couldn’t care, I was far too… too tired.
As my blinking slowed, the man offered his hand and I took it. He hoisted me to my feet and we left the hospital, my husband, and those black roses behind. While holding his hand and walking, I felt lighter on my feet than I did in my prime. So, we kept walking. I think we’re going to that good park, finally.
Meanwhile, somewhere behind us, my body waited, growing cold and covered in black roses.
Completing a Demon (A How-To Guide)
“That’s new,” I muttered as I stared at the human-shaped blob breathing under my bed covers.
With growing curiosity, I flicked the covers off the lump to reveal a handsome gentleman with ugly horns laying on his side, grinning like an idiot at me. “Bet you wish I was,” he replied cockily.
I flipped the covers back over him and headed for the door. In a panic, the man with horns flew from my bed to in front of the door, blocking my escape. “Wait, wait, wait!” He exclaimed. “I know we got on the wrong foot, doll face, but there’s no need for running away.”
“What’s with the horns?” I flicked the right one.
“Ow!” He yelped. “They’re genetic, so lay off!”
“So what? Are you like a demon?”
“You could say that,” he smoldered. “Or you could say that I’m handsome.”
I flicked the other horn.
“Ow! Stop it!”
“Why are you here?”
“I’m here…” he said with jazz hands, “to help you commit murder. Ta-da!”
Abruptly, I opened the door and smashed it against his smug face.
“Ouch! That’s worse than the flicking!”
The demon pouted. “How rude.”
“Yes, you are.”
“All part of the territory, doll face.”
I stepped on his foot.
“Ow!” He hopped in place trying to sooth it. “Quit it with the physical abuse! Are you sure you’re not a demon in disguise?”
“That was for calling me ‘doll face’.”
“How about ‘foot-stepper’? ‘Pain-maker’, perhaps? Or, The One Who Tortures Innocent Demons?”
“Oh, come on!” He cheered. “Turn that frown upside down! You know what will make you feel better? A little bit of perfectly healthy murder! Don’t you have a coworker you hate? I know you do! Everyone does. For me, it’s Steve in Demonic Accounting. He always steals my lunch, that bastard. So, I once swapped out my lunch for an actual bass turd. Haha! And he fell for it! Anyway, back to choosing who you wanna kill. I bet her name is Gwen. It’s usually the Gwens who are most annoying. Is her name Gwen? Hmmmmmm????”
“Back off, dude! Why are you obsessed with getting me to commit murder?”
“Why are you so reluctant to kill someone! A little stabby-stabby makes the world go round, don’t you know? It certainly did wonders for ancient Rome and it’ll do wonders for you!”
“You sound like a salesman.”
He chuckled. “Haha, yeah, we have a couple of those back in Hell. Well, actually, all of them. They’re an unruly bunch, truly. Plus, they just don’t get along with the guys in accounting. Though, I guess that’s a bonus for me because they hate Steve most of all, too. You wouldn’t believe that they did last year to him—”
“For someone who talks so much, you still haven’t answered my original question.”
“Oh yeah! And that was again…?”
“Why you want me to commit murder!”
“Oh yeah, that.” The demon wagged his butt back and forth. “You see that?”
“That’s my juicy butt and it’s missing something.” Taking a few steps forward, he invaded my personal bubble. “And it’s something only you can give me.”
His hot breath brushed against my skin. “A-and what’s that?” I asked.
“A tail!” He exclaimed like a little kid talking about what they wanted for Christmas.
“A tail! Angels earn their wings, demons earn their tail—but only after they convince a human to commit a grave sin. And I need that tail, because let’s face it.” He panned his smokin’ body. “This look—as sexy as it is—just isn’t complete without a tail. I mean, horns by themselves make me look like a lune! I need that tail! Besides, a little murder never hurt anyone.”
“Except the victim!”
“Mmmhhh, I won’t call them a ‘victim’ per se, more like... an unwitting volunteer.”
I crossed my arms and pursed my lips.
“Okay, okay,” he coaxed. “If you’re not done with killing someone then maybe… we can just stab someone? How’s that? Tame enough for you, doll face?”
I kicked him in the shin. “I told you to quit it with the ‘doll face’.”
While he hobbled on one foot, the demon scowled. “Alright fine! Whatever! Just tell me whatever sin you wanna commit, so I can get the frick out of here. Earth is stuffy. I don’t know how you do it.”
“Then leave,” I spat.
The demon straightened up and glared at me. “No can do, doll face. I’m not leaving without my tail.” A grin grew across his face. “Which means you’re stuck with me.”
I punched him in the gut.
Through the agony, he choked out. “This… changes… nothing!”
With a sigh, I asked. “I’m really not gonna be able to get rid of you without committing a sin, aren’t I?”
“Fine,” I tossed my long hair back. “Let’s get this over with.”
“Him.” The demon pointed at a nearby passerby.
“Too short,” I answered in between breaths and shoveling ice cream into my ice cream hole.
“Them,” he said with an evil grin.
I raked my hands through my hair. “Look, if I gotta kill someone, it’s gotta be the perfect victim. If they don’t end up on the news, then this entire day will be a waste.”
“Good big or good home, I like it.”
I handed him the empty ice cream up. “How ’bout you go buy me another ice cream, alright?”
He grumbled. “This is a gross misuse of a demon you know!”
“And get sprinkles.”
As he left earshot, I muttered to myself. “Man, what a twat.”
“I agree with your statement, but not your language, young lady.”
I leapt to the side. My eyes widened as I stared at beautiful wings with even more beautiful white wing stubs on her back sitting on a picnic table beside me.
“An… angel?” I breathed in awe. “So… purdy.”
She twisted her blonde locks in her fingers. “I agree, young lady.” The angel jumped off the table and landed on the soft dirt with the grace of an Olympic gymnast. “Now, young lady, you must mind who you keep in your company. That man you are with is no good for you.”
I snorted. “That’s what my mom said about my last three boyfriends.”
Her lashes weighed heavy with sass as she said. “And how did that turn out for you, young lady?”
“I sleept with each one of them on my mom’s bed to get revenge on her and I—” I bit my lip to stop talking. God, there was something about her that made you want to spill your guts to her like a freshly slaughtered pig.
“And what, young lady? I haven’t the time for your hesitation.”
I un-bit my lip. “And I made sure we got caught every time so she would know—but that what would she know about love? Huh? She got divorced twice!” I bent in two as I exhaled “God!” All the air fled from my lungs. I wagged my finger at her. “That’s—haha, that’s some mind trick you got there.”
“And it’s some decision you have got here.”
The demon from before pranced up to us with his eyes solely on the ice cream. “So, I was thinking, if you kill a child that’ll give you at least a week of air time. What do you think? Perfect or what?” His eyes drifted up to see the angel in front of him. A second later, he crushed the ice cream cup. Sticky syrup dripped down the side of his hand, but he didn’t seem to notice.
“What are you doing here?” His words were like venom on the tongue.
“Helping this young lady deal with you, devious demon.” Her words were drizzled with honey and I wanted her to pour me a whole bowl. (whatever that means)
The demon clicked his tongue and placed a sassy hand on his hip. “Is that so?” He eyed her wing stubs. “Well, she doesn’t need your help. Come, human.” Grabbing my hand, he tugged me away from her. “She’s a bad influence. Let’s go.”
I halted in my tracks and snorted. “Are you serious? She’s an angel! And you’re… you’re just a filthy rat from hell.”
He gawked at me. Heartbreak shone in his eyes. “But, human! We were going to murder together! I already started my scrapbook on it!”
He held up a crummily put together scrapbook with empty slots for future photos. I slapped it onto the ground. It sloshed in the melted ice cream, staining the pictures.
“I’m done with you,” I lashed out. Quickly, I turned and took the angel’s hand. It was warm and soft to the touch. “Let’s go.”
“Excellent decision, young lady.”
After leaving the demon in the dust, I asked her, “so, what do we do now?”
Her wing stubs wiggled. “What proper young ladies like you should fill all your leisure time with: good deeds.”
“Like donating blood?”
“Excellent idea, young lady."
With dodgy eyes, I stared at the nurse walking closer to me with an alyx in hand. The angel sat in the corner of the room, watching us as the nurse cleaned my skin for the tube. “This might sting a little,” the nurse said as she plunged the tube of the alyx under my skin.
And then the blood flowed.
It was redder than I thought it would be.
I glanced back at the angel and she smiled at me, feeling my insides with euphoria Her wing stubs looked bigger than before.
A few minutes later, a pint of me had relocated in the plastic bag and the nurse prepared to unhook the alyx. Then, the angel frowned.
“You should donate more.” Her wing stubs twitched as she spoke.
Shaking her head, the nurse explained, “no, a person shouldn’t donate more than one pint of blood in a sitting.”
“But you should donate more,” she firmly repeated.
“I feel fine,” I said. “I can give another pint.”
“But—” The nurse began.
“Let her give another pint,” the angel repeated, a voice like frozen honey.
With shaky hands the nurse attached another empty blood bag to the alyx.
And the blood flowed.
It was blurrier than I thought it would be.
Just as before, radiance known as that angel’s smile rained down at me as the bag pumped full.
“You should donate another pint,” the angel cooed as she reached back to stroke her wing stubs.
They looked bigger. Or maybe just blurrier.
This time, both the nurse’s and mine hands shook as she plugged in another empty bag.
And the blood flowed.
Or at least, I think it was. The room was spinning faster than I thought it would.
“More,” the angel said once this bag was full.
On cue, the nurse moved to replace it, but a third pair of hands stopped her.
“That’s enough,” a male voice told me.
I looked up and… it was the demon with the same stupid horns from before.
“She can donate more,” the angel ressured. “Humans only die from blood loss when they lose between half to two thirds of their blood. She’s only lost a third.” The angel turned to me with pleading eyes. “You can donate more, can’t you?”
“I-I can donate mooore,” I slurred.
Snarling, he snapped. “Cut it out! Stop using her to get your damn wings!”
The angel’s nose wrinkled. “Why? Isn’t that the same thing you’re doing for your tail?”
“At least I was honest about it!” He yanked off the alyx’s tube. A little blood spurted out, but he quickly patched it up as he spoke. “At least I told her the truth!” He glared at the demon. “At least it was her choice. At least I wasn’t controlling her like you are!” He ripped off the bandage’s end and tried to pull me to my feet. While I slipped from my weight, he scooped me up and headed for the door. “You angels think you’re so good because your acts aren’t called sins. You forget that it isn’t your actions that matter so much as your intentions. Or how far you’re willing to go.” My world fuzzed out as he added. “You angels would drown the world by throwing pennies in a fountain and say you’re wishing to end world hunger.”
I woke up the next morning with a suspiciously demon-shaped blob under my covers beside me. I yanked the covers off and he cried out, “oi! That’s cold!”
I pressed my hand against my temples. “What happened?”
“An ‘angel’ tried to take advantage of you, and I—your handsome savior—saved you.”
I hooked my hands around his chin and shaked it. “Why are you immortals so good looking, though?”
“Because we have forever to dedicate to our skin care routine.”
I rolled my eyes and flopped back into bed with a sigh.
“Oh, that won’t do.” He clapped. “I know! We should go egg your boss’s car! Will that make you feel better?”
I grinned. “Hell yeah it would. Let’s go!”
“Wait, I need to get my camera first! Scrap books don't make themselves!"
In my prime, I was a nurse at that hospital on Main Street. The shifts were crazy long, but we got decent breaks.
While I worked there, a rumor went around that nurses stole supplies—not me though. The only thing I ever brought home from the hospital was a stranger’s pair of shoes that I found alone on the roof.
From that point on, I always took my breaks in that roof. I never want to see another pair of lonely shoes.
Now, I keep them above my fireplace. I heard Heaven’s cold. I hope this helps keep them warm.
I’ve been lost at sea for so long I’ve lost count of the days. All the sunsets and sunrises blur together as a meaningless message of time.
Compassless with no sense of direction or purpose. I float there like dying seaweed being fried by the sun’s rays.
A rough wave lurches against the side of my boat and my body is flung over the edge like a rag doll. I can feel my shoes pulling me to the depths below, knowing full well I’ll never resurface.
Still, it’s better than being on land.
Drown in the water or drown in the paperwork.
I’m not really surprised this is how it ended. After all, I was the one who threw the compass overboard.
Across the Computer Screen
There’s a slight, impatient click to my tongue as I lay flat on my stomach in my bed that molds to my body after so many similar nights. All waiting at three am in the one lit bedroom of my apartment, surrendered by the inky blackness of the night and the obnoxious hoo-ing of owls.
I try not to let the growing knots in my stomach completely turn me into a pretzel. It‘s crazy really. That something that this can generate so much anxiety like electricity in a thunderstorm. All I’m doing is staring at a little red dot. Like. A. Cat.
A stupid cat, maybe.
I groan, and flop over to my back as I consider just closing the laptop and turning off the red might. But, I can’t—because it’s my only connection to you.
When you moved, it feels like you died and left a ghost of you behind. It feels like I’m desperately trying to bring you back to life every time I turn the computer on at three am. I need to let go—I know that—because you moved on. That’s why I’m bending to your schedule and going into work late tomorrow with eye bags as dark as the night.
But then, that red light turns green and I forget every reason I ever doubted you.
Side Effects of the Sea
A young sailor once told me the sea was his therapy.
The waves rock me to sleep like a baby, he said.
It’s so peaceful at night, he said.
I go out every weekend, he said.
Except last weekend, you liar. Because the sea swallowed you up the Saturday prior.
The sea never soothes you like therapy does, but it does coax you into its embrace so it can drag you down to its depths and use your body to feed its creations. It’s alluring. Addictive. Like a drug. An organic hallucinogen.
I think that’s my favorite part of it.