Do you want to know a secret?
There’s a sick twist in the pit
of my stomach when I think someone else
is thinking of you the way I do
it is a thieved coil I stole
Possessed by possessiveness,
I am eclipsed by the persuasion of your lips.
There’s a bastardized light in my eyes
when I mistake your presence for present-ness.
Who doesn’t know you like I do? But somehow
No one is different except who you say
and for years, you’ve said her.
I would love to know
What is the word for when someone didn’t know
they had the power to break or make you
into who you always wanted to be by having
what you’d always wanted? It’s not heart
break the noble wreckage recognized by the broken
hearted. It’s something quieter
when I look at you
burn for you a
quiet fire and
you can’t feel my heat.
And it’s insane that you will never know
the illness killing inside my icky sticky innards.
I love you.
Do you want.
Freezing. Land of cold, ice-coated,
people and animals coated
There is a crystal in
a clock, my grandfather said. That is
how they tell time, refracted light and
endless ticking. This is the time of the
Snowflake, synonym of singularity
and shining rarity, nature’s best
this silent beauty that may kill.
Wasteland of white upon first look, but look
again –the birds whistle their tweeting lives in
reflected sun, and the planet shines back, a beacon
beckoning to the source of life.
Every color vivifies against the
frosted firs, screaming in endless verve at
surviving vivacity, sparkling laughter.
As the night falls, time stops –it’s too
cold for the clocks to tick or the ticks to
clock any prey. All is sweet hibernation,
nation of sleep, yet this is the killing cold.
Clusters of cuddling warmth
in caves and around hearth fires burning
against death, coddling the little ones closer.
Celestial ice shards into
stars and moonlight drips from the gutters.
Fluffed out deer crunch the snow softly,
and a child puffs out a fairy’s dream.
One and Only
He had been staring at Rosa off and on for the past ten minutes. She sat next to Marie at the shiny, sticky bar, talking about the article she was writing for the magazine, the promising Tinder date she had been on last weekend, how her landlord was an ass who would kick her out if he discovered her cat. And every once in awhile, she glanced back at the man in the booth. He was with four others, two of whom were women, so at least Rosa knew he wasn’t some creepy predator. He had accountability. Witnesses. She had sworn off creeps after the cute cashier at the bookstore had started following her around. It didn’t hurt that this guy also looked vaguely like James Dean. He slouched into the corner of the booth, laconic in a leather jacket and white t-shirt, twirling a lollipop from one corner of his mouth to the other, occasionally removing it to sip his beer.
His eyes flicked back to her at the bar now and then, taking in her red work-to-night dress, tastefully slit up to just above the knee and exposing a tantalizing bit of caramel thigh. She could feel him looking at her. She just hadn’t decided what to do about it yet.
“Marie, you see that guy in the booth? My right, your left in the leather jacket? He’s been staring. Do you think I should go say hi? Maybe send him a drink?” Marie’s blue eyes darted over, moving in that circular, non-obvious way that is so very obvious to anyone bothering to watch. Which he was.
“That depends. He’s cute. Very devil-may-care. What do you feel like doing?“Marie smiled, waggling her blond eyebrows suggestively. Rosa glanced back one more time, taking in the pile of glasses on his table as his friends dug in their wallets and laughed loosely.
“Marie, I think you can go. I’ll see you next week.”
To a chorus of Marie’s “ow-ows” and after a go-get-em slap on the ass, she rose without another word. Rosa strolled over nervously, arriving just as they all started getting up. They looked at her appraisingly, the women nodding at her and the men nudging him.
“Mason, we’ll uh...see you tomorrow, man,” the tallest of the group said, smirking at him -Mason -before he winked at Rosa. Mason nodded before he turned back to Rosa, not saying anything. He hadn’t even gotten up.
“Umm...hi.” He stared at her, raising his eyebrows. Even though she had felt them on her all night, this was the first time she could see that his eyes were green. “I was just wondering why you were drinking with that ridiculous lollipop in your mouth. I mean, I’ve never seen anyone do that before. Why do you -I mean -do it?” Well, that was smooth.
He rolled it across his mouth to the other side. “If I drink something bitter while eating something sweet, it makes both flavors more intense. More extreme. I can appreciate each more. If you sit down, I’ll let you try.” He glanced from the other side of the booth back to her, a challenge in his eyes. She sat.
“Isn’t that kind of -well, gross? Suckers and beer? It’s not exactly cookies and coffee.” He smiled, and she glimpsed his slightly crooked, overlapping front teeth.
“On the contrary. There are actually some pretty great pairings. This one, for example, is Blue Moon and orange Tootsie Pop.”
With one hand, he took the candy from his mouth, a strand of saliva stretching thinner and thinner before it broke, dripping down his full lower lip. He held it out to Rosa. She took it from him, cold fingers brushing his warm ones as her mouth watered. Looking from it to him, she slowly sunk the candy into her mouth, sucking on it and twirling it from side to side in imitation of him. Mason watched hungrily, eyes dilated. With a final suck and as loud a pop as she could manage, she took it out of her mouth and handed it back to him.
“And now,” he said, plunking his half-empty glass in front of her, “drink.”
Mason sat against the wall on his bed, long legs stretched out in front of him as he watched the clock and waited for the mail to come. It usually came sometime after lunch, but whether or not there would be anything worthwhile was another question. His brother had sent him a wedding invitation. Mason wasn’t sure whether that was supposed to be ironic or heartfelt, but he knew that he wasn’t going. He wouldn’t be going anywhere for awhile.
Bang bang BANG! Some asshole was pounding on the door again.
“Harding! Back corner. You have mail.” The asshole guard who insisted on making such a racket every time he opened the fucking door clanked his keys and stomped his feet, giving Mason plenty of time to get off the bed and amble into the corner. The one time he hadn’t, the asshole had cracked him in the head. He wouldn’t make that mistake again.
Mason stood with his arms crossed, leaning into the white wall as the metal door opened. He had been with other inmates until they had started threatening to rape him. He’d been moved to solitary for his own safety. The asshole guard came in, his beer belly preceding the rest of him. Mason fixed his eyes immediately on the packet of letters he was holding. On the outside, no one ever sent anyone letters. On the inside, it was all they had. Sometimes, Mason would swear the Postal Service was being propped up by the prison system. USPS and USps.
“More fanmail, Harding. I swear, you’re a rockstar to some of these poor morons.” He tossed the letters on the bed and left again. It was the first time someone had spoken to Mason in -he glanced at the clock -eight hours. He pounced on the letters immediately, shredding the first one open.
I was so happy to hear from you -are you sure you’re okay? I wish you weren’t so lonely. I would keep you company...
I just want u to know that I think your inoccint. I should probly introduse myself. I live in NJ and Im a wife and mother...
I truly think we were meant to be together. From your last letter, it sounds like we would get along perfectly. I wouldn’t mind if you choked me every now and then ;). Please find a few pictures of me enclosed...
One of them was written on an honest-to-God napkin.
My name is Annabel Lewis. I promise I’m not one of those silly women who write to inmates, but I saw your picture on the news (the one where you’re wearing the blue AC/DC shirt), and I just felt this connection...
There were twelve fan letters today. Four of them were from new women. A couple of them were heinously written, misspellings and atrocious grammar galore. He stopped reading the hate mail, the letters calling him evil and coward and son-of-a-bitch as soon as he realized what they were. There were sixteen of those. But at least answering these women -he had taken to mentally referring to them his flock -would take some time. And God knew he had that.
Of course you’re the only one I write to. My one and only...
It means so much to me that you think of me as much as I think of you. Never before have I felt so understood. I, too, believe that we would be exactly suited for one another...
I know you are just fourteen but you sound so much older...
Of course I’m innocent...
He signed all of them ”Your One and Only -Mason.”
He had eluded them for so long. His mistake with the Mexican one was that he had fallen asleep after, and somehow -somehow -she had managed to saw her wrist ties off on a tree branch. By the time he woke up, there were cop cars on the road down to the shed, and he could only run so far with bare feet before they caught up to him.
It was unfortunate that he had chosen to take her to the shed that night. He could have just chosen his nice, tidy, evidence-free apartment, but instead he had picked the shed. It had been weeks since he had treated himself to the sight of a woman strung up among the trees, spread-eagled in the branches, rivulets of red running earthward. Plus, it had been a full moon -all the better to see you with, my dear. And so he had chosen the shed, with the dumping grounds just a stone’s throw from the porch and his Polaroids in their special case on the rusted shelf inside. The cops had found his lovely, decomposed harem when some poor hapless trainee had stumbled across a femur bone. Literally. Apparently, someone had thrown up when they saw the Polaroids. That still made him smile sitting in his cell weeks later.
He actually wasn’t sure how many women there were in the woods. Sitting in handcuffs at his arraignment with his lawyers beside him, he counted as the names were read off. Nine. Plus aggravated kidnapping, rape, and “forcible penetration with a foreign object” (ha) for the bitch who escaped. Rosa Perez. At least they didn’t know about the others. Although nine was surely enough to put him away for life, if not worse.
After endless appeals and delays, interrogations and interviews, bribery and battery, there was no putting it off any longer. Mason Harding would be executed tomorrow. It had been over three years since he was caught, two since his trial and sentencing. The publicity had died down for awhile, but with the imminent demise of the eminent serial killer, media outlets brought back the old pictures and experts, the footage of female admirers with their “we believe Mason” signs. Psychiatrists attempted to explain the inexplicable.
Mason, who had maintained his innocence during his trial and throughout too many interviews to count, suddenly decided that he wanted to talk. A camera was set up, a famous criminal biographer was called in, and he began listing the locations of what he called his “dumping grounds.” By his estimation, he had killed somewhere around forty women. Maybe more.
They made a documentary miniseries based on Theo Winters’ biography of Mason Harding. The last episode of the series showed that famous interview between the two men, exactly nine hours before Harding had been executed by lethal injection. Rosa had heard that he mentioned her directly at the end, that man who haunted her nightmares, and she knew that she probably shouldn’t watch it. But she needed to.
It took her weeks to work herself up to it, but she finally suceeded at talking herself and her husband into it.
The episode title appeared on a darkened screen, and then there he was. James Dean with his leather jacket and lollipop. Only now he was wearing prison orange and looked slightly haggard. Bags under his eyes. Thin wrists. James Dean on a hunger strike, righteous indignation blazing from his green eyes. She wouldn’t watch the whole thing. Rosa told her husband to fast-forward to five minutes from the end, covering her eyes and breathing fast, even here, in the home she had designed to be a haven of comfort and security. When he gently touched her shoulder, she opened her eyes again. He handed her the control, and she pressed play.
“Mason, I just have one more question for you. Why are you admitting this now? You’ve always said that you’re innocent. Why now?”
Mason Harding paused for a moment and smiled, that same slow grin she remembered from the booth at the bar.
“Well. I suppose it’s because I don’t have any time left. If I want people to know, it has to be now.” Theo Winters knit his eyebrows, uncertain.
“I’m not sure I follow. Do you mean that you’re sorry for what you did? You have to get it off your chest so families can have closure?” Harding stared at him intensely, arrogance and disbelief twisting his mouth.
“No. More like if I want people to know everything I did, everything I accomplished, I have to tell them now. I waited this long because this way, I know that people will still be talking about me, the police will still be searching.” Mason turned directly to the camera, eyes boring into the screen. “When families are informed of what I did to their daughters and sisters, they will think about me. Maybe if there’s a little sister, she’ll picture me doing the things I did to her instead. When Rosa Perez hears about it, she’ll remember every time I touched her, beat her, tied her up, like I’m doing it all again. I’ll be the one and only person that makes all those people feel that way, even after I’m dead. And if this interview ever airs, even more people will imagine me and everything I’ve done. I will be fucking immortal.”
The screen freeze-framed on her personal face of evil, and the credits began to roll. Rosa put her head in her hands.
You make me so tired.
Last night I dreamt that I loved you
Running into you causes a rush
of adrenaline that leaves me low.
Talking to you drains me of articulation.
Crying for you leaves me alone.
Knowing where you are spawns a thousand
plans to get there, none of which will work.
Last night I dreamt that I loved you
You make me so tired.
The first rule is you don't talk about it.
There is a first snap
like ripe fruit
beneath my boot
before the mouth flaps.
Tiny white imperfect munchers
break inward, arrows pointing
down a screaming throat
streaming with blood.
Inside of every man rages
a beast pacing a cage waiting to
break free and maul the world
This is where we let them loose
to fight like dirty dogs, cock fights
in a pit dark as pitch, vortexing
with the ugly thoughts we chain daily.
And so I crank back my leg again,
a child endlessly kicking a ball that
cracks back with flying
teeth and spit and dirt and blood.
Deux Ans Après
In the blue light from the open window, I rise from the nest of sheets on my featherbed in my garrett room. I stare at the man in my bed for a moment, pale shoulders moving slowly, a furrow between his dark brows. Silently, I kiss it before slipping on my woolen shawl from the night before and slipping out the door. I make my way down the dark stairs, careful not to tread on the creaky board outside Veuve Valois's room. She hunts me like a cat in the night for my rent. I hoist open the oak door, stepping out into the bedewed morning.
On a clean morning like this one, light softening the harsh corners of buildings and cats darting between shadows to avoid the rising sun, it is easy to remember the days before the Nazis came. They have been gone for two years now, yet it still seems strange not to see their harsh flags waving from iron terraces, bloody before the pastel walls. I had been just a stupid girl when they came, just arrived from the country. I am a girl no longer. Now I am ancient, as we all are.
The paving stones pass beneath my feet, slick under my hard shoes. I purchased these on the day Jean was shot, just hours before... The sun has still not risen, but Paris is beginning to stir, women shouting from the windows above me and slamming doors down the street. Marie's pâtisserie will not open for some hours, but I know that she is in the kitchen, grinding beans for the first customers of the day. I slip through the ruelle and back around the side of her cream-coloured building, opening the back door and calling a greeting. She knows that I will appear every morning, but since the day I startled her and she dropped a dozen fresh eggs, she likes me to announce my presence.
"Bonjour, Estelle." She glances up as I enter the kitchen. "How are you this morning?"
"As fine as the night was long." I give the same reply that I have given for the past four years. Once it was a code; now it is tradition.
"Do you have a new story for me to read?" Marie smiles slyly as she works the bean grinder, her moles moving like a constellation over her tensing bicep. She has been reading my stories for as long as I have been writing them, and her eyes pass over every word before my editor ever sees them.
"Non. But Henri is still in my bed, so I have plenty of inspiration from last night." I say this because I know that it will make her laugh, and she does.
"What, did you tire him out and leave him there again?"
"But of course. You know no man can keep up with me!"
She shakes her head, still smiling, and points to my writing stool near the sink. "Save your sordid tale for your notebook."
I sit, and the morning passes as they all do, in comfortable silence. She, preparing to make customers happy with a wonderful breakfast, and I, preparing a feast of lubricious words. When Martine arrives in from placing the chairs in front of the pâtisserie, I rise to walk to my table. Marie hands me my petit café and warm croissant. I nod my thanks, whispering that she will receive my story in the afternoon as payment.
I pass the glass case of pastries, carefully balancing notebook, cup and saucer, and plate, and walk out the front doors to my table in the air. I am the first one there, as I am every morning. The sun is rising now, not yet over the buildings. And I sit and I watch this city I love so well wake, this city that taught me what it was to hate. And then I turn back to my words of not-quite love, selling the image of my body and the deeds it has done to the masses.
From Good to Bad
The worst parts of me come from
the best parts.
I feel love, but he is not mine so
I am envious and lustful.
I am naturally peaceful so
sometimes fury boils deep inside me.
I am generous and so
I expect generosity from others.
I am mostly confident but
when insecurity rises, it eats me away.
I am intelligent and creative and so
I overthink and overimagine to my detriment.
I am so blessed, but sometimes
I am bored and greedy.
The ugly parts of me flutter my heart,
boil my blood, tense my muscles and make
me want to wreak violence on those who
have done nothing to me.
You can’t see those ugly parts. They are
swirling in my head and twisting my bones.
They hide behind my mild eyes.