If she were honest with herself, she’d expected the place to look ominous. The ocean would come lapping up at the quay, breaking off chunks of concrete bit by bit. The sky would be set with a murky gloom. There would be no ships in sight, just open sea as far as the eye could reach, drifting towards a blank horizon.
When she pulled up to the lighthouse the sun was shining bright. Seagulls circled overhead, landing on old railings, calling at one another noisily. She could see cars parked on the lot, squeezed between faded yellow lines and chunks of cracked asphalt. It was something of a tourist attraction now that it was decommissioned. Penelope’d tried to sell it, insomuch as she’d put it on the market, but in the end she’d been too stubborn about price and too loyal to an old profession to give it up. So she put in some spit and polish and opened it to the public. A good old bed and breakfast, $150 a night even. Tours during the busy season. Not fancy, she said, but it paid the bills.
Jessica parked and stared out the windshield. The water was calm save for ripples of sunlight and the frothy breaking of waves meeting shore. Something about the beauty chilled her. It was the same feeling she got when she knew someone was lying to her face, but had no way to prove it. A circumstantial helplessness. Her fingers gripped the wheel and her eyes veered towards the lever at her right. She could shift it to reverse with a flick of the wrist, pull out, and head home. There was nothing that made this visit mandatory. No one could force her to step out the door of her Buick and towards the lighthouse. She’d dragged herself in and she could drag herself right back out again.
She killed the engine. Outside the weather was mild, warm with a mix of cool breezes to bring the heat down to pleasant. The smell was salty and fresh. Part of her wanted to close her eyes and take it in, but the other part won out, the one that made her wrinkle her nose and beeline for the old oaken door that led inside the lighthouse.
The wood was rough. She tried to picture being so weathered, so striated by storms. She’d spent many nights behind that door, holding out in the rooms pinned between the control room and the cupola. Sometimes she’d fantasized that the light did not serve as a beacon warning ships of the shore but as a sign, a message that she was here, safe but cloistered behind the walls. She pictured the bow of one of those ships bursting through the stone, breaking in and bringing with it not just peals of thunder but freedom, sweet and new and dangerous.
She’d been very young.
She pushed the knob down and the door swung open with a creak. It wasn’t the sort off the track of a cheesy horror sequence – it was more like a rocking chair, the weight of a grandmother shifting forwards and back again to keep up momentum. Inside it was lit well with a mismatch of lamps, their shades colorful but clashing in a way that was quirky and quaint. Penelope liked to joke that she was colorblind, but she wasn’t. She just thought it gave the place character.
Jessica stepped down. Nostalgia enveloped her, a kick to the gut. She stood and took it in, acclimating herself to the feeling, planting her feet against a barrage of memories.
Anne infested the place. She was infused in every corner, a collection of gossamer cobwebs. Her ghost was a smiling thing squinting over the top of a book, lounging in front of the radiator to get the chill out of her bones. She was a history of words whispered late into the night, long after Penelope had tucked them both in and told them to settle down now before they slept the day away come morning. Jessica tore her eyes away and stared at the carpet, at its stains and vibrant colors, and willed that ghost to leave.
She clenched her eyes shut, seized her own smile by the throat and forced it into place.
“Hey,” she said. She flung her arms open just as the woman stepped into her, wrapped them around her solid, wiry form. She was no less strong than she remembered her. Penelope had a persisting sort of strength, a vitality that couldn’t be sapped by time because she refused to bow to its power. She still climbed those stairs every day even though the lens didn’t really need cleaning, the light didn’t really need to be lit. She did it because the movements were worked into her muscles, and she was as liable to stop her motion as the turning of the tide.
“Youuuu,” she said, squeezing her. Jessica grunted, then laughed, watching the long white braid sway back and forth over the woman’s shoulder as she was rocked. “You shouldn’t have taken so long to visit. I missed you, girl. God knows how much.”
She let herself be pulled back, held between Penelope’s calloused hands. She studied her even as she was studied, faded green eyes on warm and vibrant brown. Rubbing her arms as though she could work warmth into her with nothing but love and a little friction, Penelope tugged her towards one of the sofas and motioned her to sit.
“How was the drive up?”
“Mmm,” Jessica hummed. “Long, but quiet. Blessed with mild weather.”
“Not like we’ve been having hurricanes lately,” she replied. “Not exactly the season for storms, not yet. That’ll come with summer. Spring’s not quite ready to let go.”
“No.” She shifted in her seat, pressed her hands between her knees, risked looking at the room again. “Suppose it’s not.”
“I’m surprised you actually came.”
Jessica winced, even though she knew the words weren’t meant to make her feel guilty. “I’m sorry.”
She heard a snort and couldn’t help smiling. She peered at Penelope just in time to catch the roll of eyes, the dismissive wave of a hand. “We both know why you didn’t want to. I didn’t blame you. Not like you didn’t invite me to visit, not like I couldn’t have dug up these stubborn roots and took the drive myself.” She grimaced, rubbing a hand over her legs. “Just thinking about sitting in a car that long, though. Jesus. It’d kill me.”
“We both know it’d take a whole lot more than that to kill you,” Jessica replied dryly.
“Bah,” she muttered, faking a scowl. “Don’t you start calling me on my shit. Whatever happened to respecting your elders?”
“You told me not to respect anybody who didn’t deserve it.”
Penelope narrowed her eyes at her, obdurate slits, and put a hand over her heart. “Are you saying I don’t deserve respect?”
“You know full well you don’t even need to ask that question,” Jessica murmured. She tried to keep her tone light, keep the jest up, but sincerity leaked its way through.
“Eh, you’re probably right,” she drawled. “Nobody respects a stubborn old fart like me.”
“You’re the most respectable fart I’ve ever known.”
Penelope blew a raspberry at her, sputtering it out at the end, and Jessica started laughing. It was childish, all of it, the whole devolution of the conversation a throwback to a childhood both sweet and bitter. She wanted to open her eyes and see Anne sitting across from her, aged like one of those photos of missing children, her features matured by the mind’s eye into what she could have been now. Tears threatened, the bitter stepping to the fore, and she sucked in the last of the laughter before it could turn into a sob.
“You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to, Jess.”
She was seen through so easily and it stung, even if it wasn’t surprising. Sucking in another breath, she held it in her lungs until they started to burn, shaking her head.
“No. No, I do.” She looked towards the other door, the one still smooth because it wasn’t exposed to the elements, the one that led to the metal stairway that spiraled up to the gallery. “Not tonight, though. I’m too tired tonight.”
Penelope stood and walked to her, squeezed her knee. “Spare bunk’s all made up. Tour group’ll be coming back down soon. Tim doesn’t tend to stick around long after hours – once he finishes his last little speech he’ll be heading back into town.”
“Good,” she said. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to meet Penelope’s new business partner, but she wasn’t in the mood for the small talk made by introductions, the casual ‘what got you interested in this’ and ‘how long have you lived in Cambria?’ It wasn’t the day for it.
“Get yourself tucked in, then,” Penelope coaxed. She gave her knee another squeeze and straightened. “You know the routine. Breakfast early, go hungry if you’re not up by seven thirty.” She squinted spitefully. “Though now you have a car. And a wallet. Alas, my threats fall hollow.”
“I’ll be up. Wouldn’t miss out on your omelets. There’s no greater sin.”
Jessica stood and hugged her again. It was done wordlessly, and wordlessly Penelope accepted it. She bore the wisdom of time, the ability to know when things were best communicated without saying anything. When she stepped back and walked towards the stairwell, Penelope offered no quips, no witticisms, and let her go with a simple ‘goodnight’ borne on the back of a sigh.
She went down. The way up burned at her back as she descended and she set her jaw against the feeling. Anne’s eyes watched her, mournful, begging her to come up and say hello.
“I hate you for what you did,” she whispered.
There was no answer from the ghost as she continued down.
#Horror #Fantasy #Fiction
“We’re going to be late.”
Her mouth formed the thin line of displeasure mothers give unruly children, hard white lips over harsh words. I could see her all pinch-faced in the rearview mirror. Her eyes screamed but her voice was quiet.
“We’re late, every time. Every time.”
She flashed her husband a look, glared at his hands on the wheel. Glared at the ring on his finger. He didn’t answer and he wouldn’t look at her. His face I couldn’t quite see fully.
“They’ll think it’s me,” she hissed. She folded her arms over her chest, irate. The image of petulance. “I can tell they think it’s me. I can see it. It’s always the woman, lollygagging. The hair and makeup. You’ll get off without a hitch.”
“It’ll be ten minutes,” he said lowly. I saw the strip of his eyes in the mirror dart off the road and up to me. They had an apology in them. “It won’t be that big a deal.”
“Not once. Not a big deal once. This is a regular thing. I think people have noticed by now.”
“We’re not the only ones who show up late.”
“We’re the only ones who show up late always.”
I could hear my friend shift awkwardly beside me, her hands in her lap. Her posture was reflexively meek, the condescension in her mother’s voice washing to the backseat. Discomfort filled the Buick like methane, reeking and unpleasant.
“You’re so irresponsible.”
The accusation fell on hunched shoulders and pushed his foot harder on the gas. His eyes were riveted on the road, on the swath of asphalt beneath his headlights.
“I should just tell them. ‘Oh, it’s not me. It’s David. He had to see the end of the game.’ They’ll believe that.” She laughed in the way that slapped, that mocked. “God. You could learn to just record it. I record all my shows.”
I saw his forehead crease. I could see the furrows, the lines of brewing anger, of consternation. She was grinning, victorious, her mouth opening to deliver some final blow. Some knife right through the ribs to his pride.
I cleared my throat.
“Looks nice out. Lots of stars tonight.”
She deflated and he sighed - defeated and relieved. The truce was unspoken and mutually understood. A guest was here and appearances had to be kept up.
“So,” she said brightly, turning around in her seat to look at us. “You guys hungry for anything?”
It would have to wait until they got home.
We’ve All Got Obsessions- an excerpt
Seven and a half days.
Only a week, and the new job had already taken a toll on Morgan Donahue. His eyes had bags under them and his skin had taken on a sallow feature. He wondered suddenly how old Ford was. First impressions had the man at maybe mid-60s but young for his age, but perhaps he’d had it backwards. He couldn’t understand how someone could work at this job for however long he had-- ten, twelve years, he’d said?-- and not look worse for wear.
“Just don’t think about it,” was Ford’s solution. “God knows you don’t have to anymore.” He pulled out one of the chairs and sat himself down, loosening his tie with a throaty harrumph. After settling, he tossed a rolled up newspaper at his new coworker.
“No, I…” the young man fumbled, outstretching his hand to offer it back.
Ford gave a short laugh, eyebrows shooting up toward his receding hairline. “What kind of academic is scared of a little reading? Come on, student.”
“I’m not a student,” Morgan protested softly, setting it down on his desk.
“Trust me, it helps.” There was a pause, then Ford chuckled. “Funnies are on page 5.”
Morgan didn’t know how it was supposed to help. He’d done his share of keeping up with current events and following politics and movements. Every day a different story, but the news was always the same, either, EVERYTHING’S FUCKED or EVERYTHING’S FUCKED BUT WE’RE OKAY.
He thought back briefly to the advent of the internet, how printed news had very nearly gone away. It was the medium of the amateur: school newsletters and pseudo-intellectuals playing at journalism. They’d found, however, that once newspapers stopped forcing themselves onto people’s doorsteps that people just stopped consuming news altogether. What was heralded as the age of information turned quickly into the age of leisure, and the internet was the greatest source of entertainment a working-class citizen could ask for.
Some literary or cultural theorist had written something to that extent, Morgan recalled. It has become necessity for the exploited working-class, so weighed down by the demands of a capitalist society, to bury itself in entertainment. This too, is a means of control by the bourgeoisie, for if the eyes of the working-class are locked in mindless amusement, it cannot turn upon itself and realize the injustices of the system. He supposed it was true enough, especially given his own hesitations, but found it no less pretentious for its veracity.
Morgan sighed, and looked back and forth between his coworkers, from the more or less apathetic expression of Parson Ford to the entirely lost look on Jeremy Renard, then grabbed the newspaper, if only to spite the memory of the Marx-sucking thin-haired professor whose lecture had just sprung to mind. How many years had it been? And yet, Morgan could not dismiss the image of spittle flying from the old man’s mouth as he excitedly denounced the system that kept him fat and healthy. Scowling at the thought, he poured himself into the bold text printed across the front page.
Europe was and had been the main feature for the past week: civil unrest, seismic unbalance. A disaster that baffled geologists: the country seemed to be slipping into the sea. The Danish prime minister, Tobias Kjær, spoke of impending tragedy and beseeched the UNDAC to assist in a nationwide evacuation. “We are ten and a quarter million. We are fathers and mothers and sons and daughters, and we are dying. I beg the UN to not let this response be reactionary.” The article said that Kjær was sobbing when he gave the speech, and that after clearing the words displayed on his teleprompter, he sang the national anthem then promptly collapsed from exhaustion.
“Kjær’s plea was filled with raw emotion,” journalist Katie Martin wrote, “and his efforts and weeks of sleeplessness bought a single moment of silence. Riots resumed the following day all across the Jutland peninsula, including Copenhagen’s own Amalienborg. No casualties have been reported in the capital, but Christian, Crown Prince of Denmark, cannot be found.”
Morgan gave a heavy sigh and turned the page. “Hil drot og fædreland,” he murmured under his breath. Hail king and fatherland.
He noticed Ford giving him a confused look and offered him a half-hearted shrug in response before continuing to read.
Elsewhere in the European continent, Sweden and Norway spoke very highly of Kjær’s commitment to his people, offering any assistance available, barring refuge for the neighboring country’s citizens; the French made arrangements for a concert to honor the bravery of the Danish people; the United Kingdom made grandiose claims of working closely with the Danish government; the Portuguese Prime Minister Alí Zaragoza claimed it to be an act of God; and German Chancellor Anne Ostermann was rumored to be having an affair with Polish popstar Matylda Czarnecki, known to her adoring fans as Maki. Her publicity manager refused to comment.
Stateside, a virus, said to be Mexican in origin, was spreading through Florida. Statements from the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Janine McIntosh, claimed that the situation was being closely monitored, and that all allotted resources were going into preventing the “tragic loss of human life.”
Morgan believed the first part, but he had no doubts that the Florida governor was excited at the prospect. Election season was encroaching upon them, and the sense of solidarity would surely do wonders for his campaign. Human psychology aside, a reduced population meant an increased standard of living, and this virus was doing them the favor of culling the weak.
The next page listed obituaries of those who had died to the virus, and Morgan was instantly ashamed. He was beginning to think of people as numbers again. This was why he didn’t read the news.
I wanted this
Heavy metal wall
Sharp splintered cell
The hot sweet smell
of sex and blossom
Black blank hallway
Ready to be blushed
knocked and bruised
by the intimacy of art.
Swift and naked
Bare to the crowd
I saw it all
As it is
I am here
Ink on every form
Not for money
Only to grip a solid place in time
Mine to die
Laughing as I fall
Rome. 2016, March. Hadn't seen him since the '90s. Drunk on being away from the States, drunk on red and white wine, and a stomach gorged with in-house pasta, bread, and anything else I could get my hands on. Alley, restaurant. Trevi fountain checked off. Young Italian girls waving Americans in to their restaurants. A brothel feel. I want to go into the story about the two Italians fighting over the check. The owner and a drunk patron. I want to go into the gelato after, the air of Rome, the bricks of the alleys. But I can't. Rare to see this profile written in first person, but this is different. Like Rome is different. Lost there. Must gaze upon the Pantheon during the first rays of moonlight.
Lost there. Around a blind corner I nearly walked into Cornell. The man was tall. I'm 6'1 and he loomed over me. We glanced at each other, I registered the situation, and kept moving. GPS called me a moron in code, so I followed Cornell and his wife, and their little girl. I wasn't listening but I was. He was telling his girl about how life is in Italy. I heard, "In Italy..." then the crowd around us absorbed the rest. A few people took fast second looks, and then went back to their tables, their drinks, their own trips and lives.
In Rome no one cares who you are.
Quite a beautiful feeling.
Rome is different.
Crossing back toward where I had to go. Losing light. The Sun becoming the Moon, and I'm standing there then, staring at the street that I would cross to my hotel, to give up, but I'm feeling too fine, and I'm in Rome. I'm in fucking ROME. Not to sound incredulous. I put my phone to my ear to hear the directions, looked down the street. Cornell. Giving me a skeptical but not-so-sure stare, a sideways check. It would appear I was following them, but I wasn't. It didn't bother me. I laughed ahead. Rome is different. He disappeared down the street with his family, and I realized I'd been going the right way the whole time. Turned back, walked and thought about it. I could have had a conversation with him, I could have dropped one name. His parents lived next door to my friend's parents here in West Seattle. He'd skated with Cornell, and once told me he and his parents would watch Cornell mowing his parents' lawn from upstairs, even after Soundgarden took off. We could have had a conversation away from the music, the words, just two dudes from here laughing about the suddenness of meeting in Rome with such far-reaching connections to the past. What stopped me from shaking his hand? I would like to fall back on ego, but it was only ego in the sense that I didn't want to be a fan, a number, even with a rare connection.
But the truth is I am a fan. And though I don't believe in regretting something you've already done, I should have shaken his hand. I didn't have to tell him that his lyrics were brilliant, his voice one of the most distinctive in all remembered time, or any of that bullshit people like him, the few of them, hear and have to deflect or appropriate when they're out in the world. I also simply didn't want to interrupt him or his family while they walked in peace as the Moon rose over Rome.
I found the Pantheon, young moonlight. Breath stolen.
This morning I awoke to a text from my buddy, Dave. Four words and an abbreviation: Dude, Chris Cornell died. WTF?
Tap google. 52. Suspected suicide. No matter, he's gone. They all go, they don't live long enough to see themselves shine like the rest see them. And they don't care. Sitting here now, blasting Louder Than Love, and sending my best thoughts to his family.
Bukowski once said in a letter, "Death isn't a problem for the deceased, it's a problem for the living." Or something like that. Looking back on the dead artists of the last few years, Cornell hits pretty hard. 52 years old.
Much love to his people. Hands All Over just started. I need more coffee, and to kiss my dogs.
Outside it's grey and bright and warm.
What Would Jesus Eat?
Somewhere, in the catacombs of the computer’s motherboard, there is a photo of me wearing an oversized t-shirt with the Nutella logo on it. Chocolate is smeared across my chin, my forehead, my cheeks. I smile widely, showing off the specks of cocoa powder between my teeth. If you look closely enough, you can even see the batter stuck in my hair.
I am baking brownies with my mother for a pitch-in at her work. As an adolescent, I am not that useful in the kitchen, but my mother allows me to mix the triple-chocolate batter and the peanut butter-hazelnut spread anyway. We both know that I am truly here for the clean-up. After the brownies are in the oven, I begin to “help,” working only as hot water, washing all of the utensils dry with my mouth. I remove the whisks from the mixer one by one and lick them clean, carefully sticking my tongue between the slits of metal, lapping up every drop of the batter as if I am one of those bone-thin extraterrestrials posing as a starving child in Africa. But the camera says otherwise. My mother snaps a photo of me while I am busy working to polish every speck of the spoon that is caked in sugar. When I am finished, she shows me the picture and laughs. “It’s perfect,” she says, pointing at the mess on my face, “it’s so you.”
I have never loved my body. This is not to say I remember actively hating my flabby arms and chubby stomach as a child, having memories of standing sideways and naked in front of the mirror and sobbing. Rather, I hated myself in smaller ways. I remember constantly wondering if I could carve the fat out of my stomach like I could a pumpkin. I remember feeling ashamed and disgusting every time my father measured my height and weight against the wall of the shoe closet on the first day of school. I remember having to keep my friends from entering the shoe closet whenever they came over, because I couldn’t have them seeing how much I weighed. The number haunted me.
My family is a food family, and by that I mean we value cooking, and by that I mean we are all big-boned. Although my mother considers cooking to be a chore, she works as if it is an art form and our plates are her canvas. Pork roast, Hawaiian sliders, chicken gnocchi, baked lasagna—when she is finished, our stomachs are on the brink of bursting, leaving the walls of the house looking like Pollock paintings.
When I open my lunchbox in the cafeteria the next day, a leftover brownie in hand, I am greeted with a scoff by my classmate, Skinny Girl #1. Although she stares at the treat longingly, her voice reveals disgust. “I can’t believe you’re eating that,” she says, but it sounds more like “Ikea be leaves you’re the Iliad” because I am so focused on the taste of this brownie that I can’t hear a thing. It’s taking all of my senses to even begin to appreciate the morsels of art I’m chewing. Fuck DaVinci and his Mona Lisa. If I die from happiness, fly the remains of this brownie to the Louvre.
Because I’m practically on the brink of experiencing a food orgasm, Skinny Girl #1 has to repeat herself, louder this time. She flings her empty milk carton to the side—of course she’s a lightweight who can only handle skimmed milk—to the table. “I can't believe you're eating that,” she repeats until all eyes are on me.
I finish licking my fingers clean before I ask, “why?” genuinely wondering what her issue could possibly be.
“Because she’s on a diet!” Prettier Skinny Girl #2 protests, standing up for her less-pretty friend. Following my instincts, I roll my eyes, not giving a single shit about Skinny Girl #1’s diet because a) we’re fourth-graders, and fourth-graders shouldn’t have to diet, and b) her “diet” changes every day, usually coinciding with whatever the cafeteria is serving.
“And it’s Friday,” Skinny Girl #1 says, tossing her slick ponytail over her shoulder.
This remark really throws me for a loop, considering Fridays come around pretty often, and this is the first time anyone’s ever really felt the need to tell me about it at lunchtime. So I shrug and continue cleaning my face, wiping the icing off of my lips, trying to become blissfully unaware of my reality once again.
“God, Samantha,” Skinny Girl #1 says, “it’s Lent.”
Oh, yeah. I forgot about that. The season I always confuse with Advent, the season of giving versus the season of giving up. Although we’re still kids in Catholic school, we’re taught to take Lent seriously. With a gulp, I swallow the rest of my dessert, grappling for an excuse for my behavior. “But I’m not eating meat,” I assure my classmates, simultaneously trying to reassure myself that I am not a Deadly Sin. I’m no Glutton. I’m definitely not breaking my “sacrifice” either—there’s no way in hell I could last forty days without chocolate—the trick is to give up something easy. But Skinny Girls #1 and #2 are onto me.
“It’s not meat,” Prettier Skinny Girl #2 says, “but you’re not fasting, and that’s gluttony. You’re a pig.” She smirks at me, along with Skinny Girl #1 as they jokingly play priest and command that I repent for my sins.
They have tapped into my biggest fear—the world seeing me for who I truly am. Suddenly, I am ashamed and guilty and angry all at once. Part of me wants to apologize for my lack of self-control, for not being as disciplined and as beautiful as they are. Another part of me wants to spit, “why don’t you crucify me?” but I don’t learn that phrase until my senior year of high school. Instead, I flee the cafeteria, feeling persecuted like Jesus was as he marched toward his own death.
That night, when I look in the mirror, I see a smorgasbord, a sow with flab like leather. I am a part of a food family, but I am angry because I only have myself to blame. I don’t take my faith or my health seriously enough, and I don’t know if I ever will. Maybe if I go to Mass more, God will grant me the loss of ten pounds. That’s how it works, right? I slam the bathroom door shut as I trudge into my bedroom. To soothe my feelings, I gorge myself on chocolate.
A declined invitation
I remember the night death offered me
a tempting invite to fall asleep,
wrapped in anaesthetic snow.
Closer to caring about the icy, cold release
of unbearable, mangled tension,
than I was about waking up
the next day.
I imagined, sliding down the sword-sharp chute of 'given up' and landing by the river to blissfully freeze in a wayward,
He came back, with a wounded fracture crowbarred open by rusted metal, and incessant desperation to control. His own guilt - a formidable shadow, eclipsed my view.
So I sat, head in hands, with no saviour on my side. The only road lit was a hot,
angry release from the bars of
intolerable anxiety. A road that lured me, willed me, to crash my car.
"Escape" he whispered.
Dreams replaced with paralysis, haunting sanctuary, safety, and home. Screaming demons piercing the early hours of new days, and prolonging the nights.
He was losing his grip.
Now only able to reach me between asleep and awake, I dropped fear,
took his hand,
and let him drag me down.
There was - no resistance.
And it killed him.
they say i cried wolf but i was shouting / calling out the ones who said they built my mountain / claimed i only climbed the peak / only chose to speak after they'd all spoken
nah / i built this land with these hands too / grown this man from his mama's roots / when i leave you'll feel the avalanche / catch yourself before you fall through / watch me quake and make the ladies loose / one day you'll see you lost your grasp on glory cause you're blinded from the soot
got too many people asking their mama's if i'm a fraud / not enough tugging on their jackets looking up and asking if i'm god / got so many girls on their knees / begging baby please that i might need my own cross
hands nailed to the board / i can tell she's wanting more / thinks i'm her savior / she's praying later i'll press my body against hers / when she sees i'm hung like the son of god she parts her legs like the sea / opens her mouth / begs for rain so i come a downpour / drown her between my knees
she doesn't ask me where i've been but asks me to take her there / i tell her it's my turn to steer / wrap my fingers in her hair / baby in the backseat / stick shift / straight up / always out of fuel cause she can never get enough
she's real good like a lady / when i ask her to taste me / on my chest she licks the sweat / on my breath she smells the gin / she says i taste like dollar bills but she kisses me like i'm mint
baby even roars when i'm tame / start real slow / let her go / but it always ends the same / tastes the heat in the night / she says she wants to take a bite / when she opens her lips and howls baby i'm the one to blame / cause when she cries wolf she's only screaming my name
He was not lying.
They all sat there staring at him, staring at a man who sat on his hands yet kept his tongue unbitten. He had to keep the hands contained for fear of slapping their faces. He wasn't a violent man, no, but to be accused over and over of the same thing was trying his patience. His tongue wagged again and again. It bore no fiction. It falsified nothing, yet they did not believe.
“I did not kill him,” he would say.
In came the accusations. The proof. The photos of a corpse he did not remember. The bloody trousers he swore he'd never worn. It was all quite gruesome, truth be told. Whoever had killed the fucker sure was a violent man, that was certain. Smashed the other guy's head against a wall until it split. From the picture, it looked like he kept smashing long after the legs stopped that odd, sporadic, dying-insect twitch. After the eyes had come out of the sockets with odd, wet pops, like shapes out of one of those sorting cubes that children loved to poke around with, looking for the right hole. The eyes wouldn't fit again, though. The holes were too contorted because of the damage done to the skull.
They stared at him. Their hands pawed the photos closer, thrusting them across the table and tapping with bony fingertips. Look, they'd say. We know you did it. We have the proof. We have witnesses. We have. We have. We have.
“I know what I did!”
He'd shouted it. They leaned back in their chairs, eyes widened or narrowed. They waited, expectant.
“And I didn't do that.”
Quieter that time. They scrutinized him, bore down on him with looks of disgust and then tore in again.
A man in the corner scribbled furiously at his notepad. He'd glance up on occasion, perusing the lot with a quizzical brow, and go right back to his frenzied writing. At first he imagined smoke drifting up from his pen, just to be funny – but now he was certain it was actually real.
My word. He'd burn the whole place down, at this rate.
It went on. The accusing, the questioning, the heated responses. Always no, forever no, because he would not admit to something he did not do.
It was clear in his mind's eye. Perfectly so. Rounding the corner at the bar to pick up his fiance. Seeing the victim kissing her, leaning her against the wall. Her kissing him back, pulling him closer when she should have been shoving him away. Screaming for help. He'd run in to save her, beat the man to death, batter his face against the concrete until it was unrecognizable. No one would want him then. No one would want him after -
“I walked on by. I left them there. I showed up at the courthouse to file for a divorce.”
“And do you know why the police were called on you?”
Blank stares around the table. Silence, save for the persistent scribbling of the pen. He was convinced that sound was eternal. That it would go on until the world stopped spinning and God came down to smite everyone who ate bacon and wore dresses made of various fabrics.
“He's not lying.”
Heads whipped towards the notepad man. Their expressions were incredulous, the lot of them, their mouths dropping open.
Finally. Someone gets it.
“He thinks he's telling the truth because that's the way he remembers it. You could shove the corpse in his face and he still wouldn't own up. You could drag his hysterical fiance in here and even she wouldn't be able to convince you. He's telling you what he believes happened, and nothing is going to convince him otherwise. Nothing you could say, anyway.”
“You're willing to testify to that in court, doctor?”
The man snorted. He stood up, screeched the chair over the floor and to the table, reclaiming it with a dull thump.
“After a bit more study of the subject, maybe. Alone.”
A brief, murmured meeting ensued. Glances were cast his way, and still he sat on his hands. Still he sat, though now the tongue was bitten. To be called insane on top of everything else? It was absurd. Insulting.
It was so good he was not a violent man.
The rest of them filed out, a long procession of haughty looks and pointed glares. The door shut behind them with a definitive click. The psychologist took up a place directly across from him, made a bridge of his fingers, and asked:
“Now. One more time. What happened when you found Jessica cheating on you?”
Later, he would swear that the fellow had fallen out of his chair. That he'd gotten that pen stuck straight through his throat because of it, isn't that the damnedest thing? What a way to go, honestly. What a stroke of rotten luck. It would be funny if it weren't so sad.
And he didn't know what to make of that security footage, but it certainly wasn't of him.
He was not lying.