amber.

amber

as one of the witnesses, my ineffectual statement was more or less the same as everyone else, though i remember the mother and father delivering theirs through blasted sobs, as they wondered where and how

because one moment, there was a girl in a pink tutu, halfway through an ice cream cone destined to ruin those frills once it really got to melting, and then, and everyone remembers this, the rap and snap of her tap shoes, as she wandered away…

###

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spider/man

spider

I got a lot of good memories with Rome, most of them bad, so it’s sad that this one should stand out. But that’s the nature of secrets – number 63, if the lights on the triple-C bridge have anything to say about it.

We were drinking in my one bedroom, those blurred and aimless Verona days. A near-empty rectangle of hardwood floors, high ceilings. Ensconced by three naked walls and a pair of looming casement windows, three stories above the gravel parking lot. Lamp in the corner burning bright, spherical midnight. Loose-leaf paper scattered like ripe snowflakes.

I was seated at the cheap bridge table. Ass parked in a second-hand roller chair, black tattered vinyl exposing jaundiced foam. Rome was sitting in a green, fold-out monstrosity, poached from the curb some several weeks earlier. Working on a beer, some kind of statistic that couldn’t be assigned any sort of value. I was matchmaking. Keeping pace and then some with my own bottled garbage. Occasional chaser in the form of a fifth, Kentucky Gentleman.

I put out my cigarette. Ashtray stuffed to the gills with crippled filters.

Rome took off his shirt. Wrapped it around his head, sheltering greasy, matted curls. Drawing attention to his arched nose, shifty eyes overflowing with anti-social intelligence. Pasty skin, white and glistening from summer sweat. He picked up a plastic carrot and pretended to smoke it, mimicking my drawn out drags.

“My point is,” he said, as though we hadn’t been sitting in silence for over an hour… “My point is, there isn’t one thing or the other.” His vowels were wide, resounding. Back of the throat. “So if a told you I had a few pennies, then that’s not that much. I mean, I do have a few pennies, and there’s no genie looking to rub my antler. Antlers. Both of them!” He took a pull of beer. Lamplight putting a shine on his wire-rimmed glasses. “Pennies are dumb, then. I don’t care. I can fuck pennies ‘till I die. I don’t live on a peninsula. Which is where pennies are from. But anyway…”

I nodded, so thin I could see my smoke infested lungs through the white t-shirt.  “But anyway.”

“But anyway,” Rome continued, as though he had decided to take the conversation back from someone else’s interception… “Pennies, a few. No big deal. If I was to tell you I had a few battleships, that would be very impressive. I am surprised I even have a single one. But if I was to tell you I only had, say, even two battleship…”

He burped.

“Battleships,” I said.

“If I had even two battleship….”

He stared at the ground.

There, on the hardwood floor stood a spider.

On all eights.

We could have sworn, or at least Rome was certain, it was staring up at him.

He wasn’t thinking. Or maybe he was, or maybe they were one and the same, his move dictated by self-absorption and pallid narcissism. In as much time as it took to realize it was happening, it happened.

Raised his foot, brought his worn sneaker down on the spider.

Left it there, evidence of his mission.

I chased the stomach ache with a shot of bourbon. “Why did you do that?”

Because it was annoying me.”

“That a good enough reason to kill it?”

“It’s a spider.”

“Are you a battleship?”

“Whatever.”

He lifted his foot. The spider’s corpse gave birth to a hundred or so tiny mites. Miniature arachnids, teeming, sprawling, spiraling out like arms in a distant galaxy. Abandoning ship. Rushing, full steam, from their origin, her body crumpled, choked, flattened in a Picasso afterlife.

Mother descending a staircase.

Rome looked up.

I stared back. Silent, because what more was there to say.

I sent a beer his way.

He tried the top. Twisted. Forgetting that this was a pull cap.

I handed him the opener.

He did himself the honors and took down three large gulps. Got some on his chin, down to his sunken chest. Hairs glistening.

He took the shirt from his head and let his curls go wild.

Rome didn’t realize just how many babies were flooding his world.

He wiped himself off, sniffed. “I think that instead of horses, we should have moreses. Because who wants less of anything? Unless it’s a battleships.”

I had to agree with that, at least, as the apartment filled with baby refugees.

2:30 in the am, mid-twenties.

We went about the business of forgetting things.

###

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open to suggestion.

beneath

Could it possibly take place on a train? she asked, lighting a cigarette. Amusement park? Oh, or Ferris wheel. Park bench. Greyhound bus across the northwest states, maybe the Badlands? Tree house. Rooftop. Maybe a graveyard? Mausoleum? Movie theater, sometimes you get lucky and nobody else shows. Elevator? Dressing room, during a surprise black out, or…

Then she smiled. Or in the ocean?

I told her I already had a secret about the ocean. Also one about Daniel and the lake in central park.  Then I reconsidered under her watchful eye. Thought about how that one, those two stories might never see the light of day, let alone anyone willing to read them.

Would that work? she asked. How would the ocean read?

I scribbled a few rewrites. Had a glass of cheap champagne. Took a breath and convinced myself this wouldn’t change her opinion about me.

She was on top and it gave me time to marvel, languish, objectify, mystify and think my way along her body. Same rout patterns, up along her thighs, ass, touch, reconcile, hips, pressed, and thank you, lucky stars, for moving them, for this moment, tips leading the way along her stomach, curvatures, upwards, hair between my fingers, feeling the acrid burn of her nails making roadmaps against my shoulders, and I understood we were drowning.

            I couldn’t tell, didn’t want to overthink, snap a synapse that might leave me less than alert or impressionable, but, damn, this sentence was already trying to kill the conclusion, so she was flipped, sideways, compass switching, hard grind against each other, and again,

            we were drowning

            a simple pair of individuals so intent on saving each other, that every wet moment dragged us further into the abyss, mid-Atlantic rift for those who like a little calm in their eruptions, rocking against the pacific rim, rip tides, coral against our backs, blood in the water, and the sharks began to circle, but this time

            Just. To. Watch.

            And i realized my lungs were filled with water, eyes capped with turquoise sunlight, refracting off the surface several fathoms above my head, and this moment, each consecutive, unrelated moment, was filled with her, as she came in, dipped to bring her face close to mine, and we couldn’t have rejected contact any more than this story was created just for the sake of a memory and what do you do when she’s sitting right next to you, some several miles away from the shores of imagination.

…She smiled slightly, watched a school bus go by and said, you never wrote that.

Never lived it either, i clarified.

She nodded, tilted her legs up towards the railing, resting her heels.

I gave myself a second or so to reflect

and went about making those changes.

Keeping certain things to myself.

###

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pogue.

domino1

Difficult days for a three-legged dog named Pogue.

Though he had no sense of calendar, he understood the seasons. Hobbled around the neighborhood, sniffing. Searching. Left leg aching in back, he didn’t have a right one to speak of. Nights spent in spaces under apartment buildings, isolated from New York winds. Days spent looking for scraps, and glad to say, there were a few storefront people who took mercy on Pogue. Threw him whatever nominal portions they had lying around. Not too shabby, especially compared with what little there was for the homeless men who wandered along with him. Pogue always wondered what separated them; two extra legs, that couldn’t be it. Pogue was an incomplete dog, he knew it.

Knew he was incomplete, only three-fourths of the dog he used to be, because there was a family once. A family and a fourth leg. And several seasons since found him in this towering city, surrounded by a moat. He could hardly remember how it had come to this. The only thing now was the position of the sun. Climates. Changes in the weather determining what might come should he survive to see anther day.

On and on, Pogue had made it this far.

But Pogue suspected he was getting older.

Suspected that the seasons were up to something. Warmth and cold turned interchangeable. It had always been a strange life, but, yes, Pogue suspected that things were only to get stranger. He slept where he could, and when he did, there were dreams…

And waking from those fleeting dreams meant survival.

But there was something to be said for those moments.

Limping through a stalactite city and wondering what it took to rest…

Pogue thought he saw Dominick from a distance. By the time he made it to the corner of Third and 98th, the Dominick was gone. He sniffed the air. Didn’t catch any trace of him. Decided he had been mistaken. Caught a whiff of steak from a nearby restaurant. Pogue had learned to ignore that particular level of torture, and turned left instead, heading for 2nd Avenue. Kept going, on down to FDR drive. There was a lull in traffic and he crossed over to the waterfront.

Far over the East River, he could see Queens. Brooklyn further down the line. Pogue gave his three legs a rest. Folded them up under and laid on his stomach. Watched the water, let his eyes drift.

Memories of a humid town traveled past with the current. Years ago, when his family was still with him. A humid  town with a river of its own. A boy sitting on the hood of a white Oldsmobile. They had stared at each other. Pogue didn’t know why the memory was still there. The rest of them had long since faded.

His breath came in, out, in out, tickling his paws. Traffic behind him heading downtown, uptown.

There wasn’t much of a mystery to life.

Things were simple and very, very difficult.

Pogue breathed in.

All at once, a new smell.

Brand new, though Pogue felt it should be old. Unrecognizable. Pogue breathed in again, tried to place it. No, this was different. A combination of everything, maybe, but that wasn’t doing it justice.

This was the smell of something that didn’t belong.

Where it was coming from, that was another thing. Wasn’t carried by the wind. Didn’t even originate from anywhere, it was all over. Part of the scenery, he might as well have been watching the smell.

A moment later, and he was.

Pogue tilted his head to the sky and saw a hole. It was high up there, over the water. Not sure how high, though, and as a result, no way to tell precisely how wide it was. From where Pogue was lying, it appeared to be no larger than his own head. Giant fly on a celestial wall. Just floating there. And, straining his eyes, Pogue could make out something on the other side. Something that might have been moving.

Pogue watched that hole in the sky for the rest of the day, waiting to see if anyone else would notice…

He got lucky that night and found a blanket.

Thrown out with some other things.

Struggled to set it free from the rest of the remnant pile.

Dragged it to a small space he’d found two nights ago.

Nestled in a trash alley between two brownstones.

Laid down on top, and watched the traffic go by as he let his eyes trust another endless night in Manhattan, and in his dreams, he saw it, one more time.

Growing larger.

###

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gift.

gift

It wasn’t too far from this place that I saw my first coyote, she told her daughter, and I remember because, it wasn’t more than a few minutes after that when I saw the river change directions.

She felt her daughter’s eyes staring up from a six year old height of four feet, fingers locked into a belt loop, blind eyes paying lip service, waiting for another story to color in what those ears had been hearing for so long.

With her hand leading the way, she ran streams through her daughter’s dark, finely lit hair. Coyote’s are conical animals, she said. Imagine all the shapes you’ve known, all moving towards a spot just beyond where you’re ears reach. When you get to close to the edge of the forest, and you know you’re close because, at any moment, you’ll come into contact with the sound of cars barreling along the highway. Only, you hear them before they happen. Like when a man walks past you, and just a bit of rain water falls from his shoulders onto your forehead and you know, somewhere, it’s raining, and maybe the storm’s coming your way.

And that’s what this creature was like. Caught him staring at me from across the river. You remember the day, the first time you smiled back at me? That was what I mean by staring, that’s what it looks like to be looked at. The way the sunlight is cutting through the leaves, the way the sunlight catches your face, this is the kind of day it was. Cooler, though. There was a breeze, the kind you feel in March now, instead of May. And I stopped, and watched him. And he watched me. But more than that. I could tell feel his mind like velvet against mine. Those were the eyes I was dealing with, right about when I was your age, and you were so far away.

And then he winked. She took one of her hands and traced it over her daughter’s face, let her know where this next touch was coming from, and placed a palm over the right eye. There. That’s a wink. And it can mean so many things, so if you ever sense one coming your way, be careful. It can bring you closer to its origin, leave you cold, cheat, deceive, bond, there have been times in my life when a wink has changed the meaning of a conversation to the point where there is no turning back.

She withdrew her hand from her daughter’s face and placed it on a tiny shoulder. Funny I should put it to you like that, those last words. Because soon after, the coyote went scampering into the underbrush, and that was when I saw the river change.

Remember the big storm? You felt it in your tiny little snoot, tasted it before it happened? This was what it was like. Imagine if you woke up and your bed felt like the bath, or your breakfast was suddenly a bowl full of your building blocks. Not the way things are supposed to be, and it wasn’t the way things were supposed to go. But I didn’t have the same sense you do. I didn’t have your gift. I saw the river go from downstream to up stream, and it was the opposite of canonical. This felt as though it was pointing inwards. When your toes curl up, or you sleep on your side, arms bundled close, legs drawn up. Inverted, is the word. When your sweater tag doesn’t bother you on particular days. And it can be frightening, but it isn’t always bad. So I followed the new direction. Went upstream, the new downstream, thought I would see why this was. Answers to questions.

She sighed. Felt her daughter sigh along, picking up on the social cue, monkey don’t see, monkey do .With only a moment or so to keep the moment going, she kept on: And after a few minutes of following the river, I saw a man. A large man. Feel your arms. Feel mine. Feel the difference. Then make it large. Make it enormous. Make those arms into the time you hugged a tree. Fell asleep against roots, those where his fingers. The bowls that hold your cereal in the morning, those were his eyes. When you feel for the doorway to our home, that was his mouth. He was a giant. Laying down, belly first, and that mouth was open, and he was swallowing the river. You’ve walked across it before, you know how large he must have been, he was swallowing the river. I couldn’t see his teeth. Maybe they weren’t there. But the river kept flowing into his mouth, and when he looked at me, shifted his thoughts, the way you sometimes do, I could hear what he had to tell me, he told me, in my mind:

her name will be Samantha. And I will have something to tell her.

I don’t remember how that moment ended. In the time it takes for your bath to drain, I was suddenly walking alone, back through the woods.

            But now, here we are. At the same spot, where the river ended in a giant, open mouth.

Samantha gave her mother a hug. “And now we wait.”

She nodded. Put the basket down, filled with sandwiches, juice boxes, fresh fruit and a bag of carrot sticks. Reached in and pulled out a red and white checkered blanket. Laid it flat.

That’s right, Samantha’s mother said. And I made us a picnic to pass the time.

Samantha  smiled.

Listened to the river, and sat down to eat with her mother, as the two of them waited for the time when coyote winked, the water changed its course, and the giant man warned of a day when he would return to tell Samantha something important, because only she was capable of listening.

###

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broad daylight.

sewer

At first, I didn’t know what I was seeing, second glance solidifying the fact that, yes, there was a man crawling into the sewers.

By the time, I had rounded the corner where St. Patrick meets Palmyra, his head was already in the drain. So just a torso, legs, arms spread out. Hands pressed into the curb, pale talons with a plastic sheen. Digging in, though no sense anything was pulling at him. That would have made more sense, and maybe this secret would have been 34 or 35 on the list. But he wasn’t being dragged. If he was a he. White dress shirt. Grey slacks. White sneakers pointing outwards. He wasn’t struggling. If anything, he was digging. Fingertips making actual indentations in the slanted concrete. Using that alien strength to move in.

And when I stopped to decipher just what I was witnessing, it happened fast. Fingers disengaging, elbows forming a pair of upright pyramids, before diving in, embracing the storm drain, accepting the rot, so now his head, torso, and suddenly, fucking waist was in there, and I swear I could see teeth protruding from the iron overhang, taking a  bite and he was still so willing to surrender.

Purpose driven life.

One last sound like milkshake dregs through a straw, and he was gone. I felt there might have been a popping sound at the end there. Satisfied smack of that moment when you know your meal is done.

I only noticed the sounds returning as I realized they had bone missing. Children walking home from school. Men laughing outside the corner store, crack of a tallboy, just down the block. Planes overhead. Cars violating potholes on nearby crossroads. Cathedral bells signaling half past, well past.

My only other choice was to stay rooted to the spot. Middle of Palmyra Street, where a car could come by at any moment, make a moment out of me.

So I stepped forward. Walked along the gutter, closing in on the site of my hallucination. Noticed a fresh puddle around the opening. Close to one hundred degrees in the Crescent City, that day, no way that was rain.

I stood, feet face to face with the drain.

Magnetic tug insisting that I bend down.

Take a look for myself.

Most likely how that man had ended up down there in the first place. Or whoever had come before him, or her, or it, whoever. Whatever.

I crouched low.

Felt the clouds part. Sunlight licking at my neck.

Got lower. Knees on the street, rough surface scraping my knees through denim jeans.

Resisted the urge to plant my palms.

Leaned in.

No sign of anyone peering back at me.

But the void wasn’t entirely empty.

Hanging just past the underside of the drain was a scrap of paper. Like a meal ticket at a greasy spoon somewhere back east. Something scrawled on the surface. Black marker, but still to dim to read its suggestion, prophecy, its wish for me.

I reasoned with my head, don’t do it.

Hand not knowing what was best for any of us.

Reaching in.

Fingers closing around the note.

Ripping it free.

Arm now back to where it was supposed to be.

Daytime hues offering what it had to say for itself, and what was written there was

SECRET #17

And from inside the sewer, I heard someone smile.

So I finally shot up, legs pumping, and ran up the steps to my home. Key twitching into the security gate, swinging open, same with the door, and it was done, door slammed shut behind me.

I leaned my back against the wood.

Rested my head.

Remembered to breath.

Then remembered the note.

Secret number 17.

Turned and looked at the door, as though

it would make a dam difference when it came to keeping the outside from coming in.

###

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i’m glad i spent it with you.

new room

the sun came out at midnight, and the world went dark.

i watched from my window as the simultaneous snap of a million minds echoed across the planet in a deafening thunderclap, and doors went flying all along Cheshire drive, spitting out somnambulist drones, unconsciousness turned inside out, nightmares dragged into the streets, and they screamed, so loud, symphonic, that there was no doubt, this would be the last beautiful thing to ever occur, the end of all mystery, every one of them thrown headlong into the next phase, malformed existence, their eyes bleeding, and i sat at my window, smoked, drank the remainders of red, shed a tear and wondered how things were faring on the other face of the earth.

###

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