The Furious Gazelle

Literary as hell.

Month: August 2014

I Miss Her All Wrong by Alyssa Cooper

I miss her all wrong

My dad called me today, and the first thing he said was, “You haven’t been returning my calls,” as if I didn’t already know that. After, he asked me to come home. He wants me to take a semester off. He wants to look after me. And I told him that I want to be alone, which isn’t true, and I lit a cigarette even though I don’t smoke, and I yanked viciously at the hair behind my ear, wincing. I’m turning into her without meaning to. My body has absorbed her tendencies, so that I’ll never be alone again.
“I know what you’re going through, son,” he told me. “I know that you’re probably too young to remember what it was like when your mother left, but I know. I can understand what you’re going through.”
I hung up the phone slowly, very gently, wondering how long it would take him to realize that I wasn’t on the other end. She used to do this to me sometimes, and when I called her back, hurt and confused, she’d laugh at me. I tried to laugh like she would, but it sounded like a cough. My mother is living with her new family in Detroit, her handsome husband and her pretty little daughters. Sometimes, she still sends me colourful postcards.
Last night I fell asleep clutching her photo album and I woke up with bruises where it touched my chest.

*

Today, it has been three weeks since the funeral. Last night I dreamt of her, just like I always do. When I woke up, she was my first thought, the way she is every other morning. I closed my eyes and after a moment of trying, I conjured a perfect painting of her face in my mind, even her crooked teeth and scarred chin. I am faithful in my recreation. I thought that these things would fade by now, but they haven’t. I’m losing faith that they ever will. There are some things that we’re not meant to forget, and that girl, she was one of them.
With every day that passes, I gather more regrets. I never thought that I’d have any, I promised myself that I wouldn’t, but time teaches me to be more critical. She used to ask me to skip lecture with her on Friday afternoons, but I never would. She’d ask me to pick her up at night, and if it was after midnight, I wouldn’t bother. I’d tell her to wait till morning. She’d send me text messages of song lyrics and poem stanzas, and, unsure of the appropriate response, I never replied. Not until she said something else. I didn’t kiss her in public enough. I should never have twisted my hand out of hers for something as trivial as switching the song on my iPod. I should have stayed awake to watch her sleep. I should have filled her room with roses. Should have picked her up and spun her as we kissed.
I know that I couldn’t have stopped what happened. She was slipping over the edge long before I met her. The first time she stripped away her clothes in front of me, she was shaking. She tried to hide the scars that criss crossed her tiny body. The ones on her chest were risen and white. She had carved the initials of everyone who had ever hurt her across her belly. Including my own. The word ALONE stretched over her hip, distended by the ridge of her bone. FUCK UP flared purple and swollen across one thigh; FAILURE marked the other. A neat lace work of thin, pale lines decorated her left arm from wrist to elbow. I was horrified, and she knew, and she begged me to tell her that she was beautiful. But I couldn’t find the words. I’d found them so many times before, but in that moment, when she needed them most, I was frozen. She was already hovering, teetering, barely managing to balance. I could never have been enough to hold her.
Now that she’s gone, I find that I have to count the reasons to get out of bed in the morning. I lie in the patch of sun that she had once claimed her own, staring at the ceiling, trying to remember that there are good things in my life. Sometimes, it doesn’t come, and I turn off my alarm clock and I go back to sleep. I pull the blankets over my head so that I don’t have to stare at the room that she existed in, once. I press my face into the pillow until I cant breathe, until the pressure builds behind my eyes and I’m dizzy enough to pretend that I can still smell her conditioner in the sheets. There are so few things good things these days. Warm weather. Cheap food. Sympathetic professors.
She took everything with her. The smell of her hair. The glow of her skin. Her smile. Her slender, grasping arms. The skip in her walk. Her quiet voice. The way she kissed me. The soft, sweet sleep-sounds that she made. Every little thing. The pieces that are left behind seem so trivial, now, even the ones that were once so glaringly important. I don’t care about going to class. I don’t care about getting to work on time. I don’t care about eating, or cutting my hair. So I just go back to bed. I navigate my dreams and I pretend that the world isn’t passing by without us. I make believe that it’s standing still for her. Waiting for her like I am.
It has to stop soon, though. I know that. I’m getting too skinny and my homework is piling up. I‘m running out of sick days, and I can‘t afford to get fired. My father is worried that I‘m killing myself. It’s only appropriate to be sad for so long. After a while, it just makes people uncomfortable. After a while, they’re just waiting for you to be normal again. Like they are. One thing I learned when I lost her is that the world won’t end just because you ask it to.
To be honest, I think things would be easier if it did.

*

When I think about the night that we met, I can’t help but think that she deserved better. She deserved something romantic, a beautiful moment to hold onto. She deserved a love story, and I didn’t give it to her. I thought it was something that we’d be able to laugh about in twenty years, but she won’t be here in twenty years, and it’s not something that I can laugh at alone. Not now. I wish I’d given her more than I did. Maybe if I could have changed things, just that one night, it would have been enough to make her happy.
We met in my first week of university. She had already been there a year, and had moved on from the dorms, living alone in a small apartment downtown. But I didn’t know that yet. All I knew was that there was a party down the hall with open doors. I hadn’t been invited, but it seemed as if no one had, as if the entire dorm floor was flooding towards the room and its pounding music pulse. So I slipped in with them, basking in what I saw as my first true moment of freedom. A cold bottle was pressed into my hand as a guy I’d never met grabbed my shoulder and laughed so hard that I missed his name. I know it now; that guy was Kyle Watts, and without him, I might have never had her. He still lives down the hall. I could go and knock on his door, and ask him if she was better or worse before she met me. I could ask him if he had ever longed for her, if he had asked her there that night because he wanted her. Did I steal her away? I could tell him everything that happened because of that night. I could tell him about the gift he gave me. But he wouldn’t understand. He would give me that patient, pitying look.
This is my burden.
I went to that party because I had no friends and I wanted some. I went because they were playing the Beatles, and I could hear it even with my door closed. I stayed because the beer was free, and because it seemed like every person I met was incredibly happy to see me. The room was small, the people crammed inside, laughing and sweating and pressed together. More and more kept coming, until it seemed like all of the breathable air was gone, and my view got blurry and damp. Everyone was happy and smiling and dancing, except for her.
She was perched on one of the narrow beds, the only one in the room who was sitting. Her legs were crossed under her, hidden beneath a long cotton skirt. One bruised knee escaped the shroud, the purple patch of skin looking sick and diseased in the dull yellow lights. Her hands rested in her lap, wrapped loosely around an un-opened beer bottle. The glass was sweating at her touch, fat glistening beads of moisture that dampened her legs, so that her achingly thin skirt turned transparent and clung to her thigh.
It took me a while to notice her, sitting alone, leaning against the wall and smiling mutely at the people who stood near her. I watched as a small group turned towards her, encircling the bed as they tried to draw her into conversation. I watched her through the haze of my sixth beer, they way that she smiled and nodded, but never parted her lips. I watched them give up on her and move away, and the way that her heartbreak shone as bright as headlights through her eyes. A part of me I’d never met before swore vehemently that I’d never do that to her. She was already smiling up at another group of people, one that hadn’t noticed her yet. Her face had turned away from me.
I had an urge to cross the room. I wanted to sit beside her, offer to open her beer, and tell her how beautiful the curl of her hair was. Instead, I gulped down the rest of my drink and I waited to be offered another.
I stood alone and watched her as she watched everyone else. I barely noticed the subtle shift in her features that led from smile to frown. She started pleating a small fold of her skirt in her fingers, her beer still unopened, now resting on the pillow beside her thigh. A line appeared between her eyebrows as her frown deepened. Her eyes started to gleam as her shivering lips pressed into a tight line.
I should have left my beer on the desk as I pushed past a few clumsy dancers to get to her. Instead, when I dropped down beside her, I forgot the bottle in my hand. The neck tilted down, and a bubbling river poured into her lap. I stared at the growing puddle, unable to move; unable to speak. Finally, I lifted my gaze to her enraged face.
Her mouth opened and closed, and pressed tight again. She looked at me with vicious eyes. “Thank you for that,” she hissed between her teeth. The words hit me like a punch in the gut. I reached for her immediately, grabbing clumsily for her skirt, lifting it up off of her legs as she slapped my arms and squealed, begging me to stop.
“I’m sorry,” I said earnestly, clutching to the fabric, trying to ring out the beet as she twisted away from me, pressing into the wall and shoving my shoulders.
Her strength was surprising.
I stared mutely from the far side of the bed, searching for words that wouldn’t come. I said again, “I’m sorry.”
She stared at me for a tense moment as the party moved on around us. And then she sighed, dropping her eyes as she fanned her skirt with both hands. “It’s okay,” she said gently, “You didn’t mean to.”
I nodded gratefully, and for the third time, I told her, “I’m sorry.”
She glanced up at me, and she smiled. “Don’t worry about it. It’s not that great of a skirt anyways.”
I swallowed thickly as I sat back down. She didn’t say anything. She stared at me, the smile gone, her amber irises swimming with threads of pale yellow. There was far too much power in her gaze for a nineteen year old girl. It was like a weight on my chest. I said the only thing I could think of.
“I’m Shawn Hailman.”
She said nothing, with those eyes burrowing into me. A bead of sweat started a slow crawl down the back of my neck, and I was sure that she knew about it. There were too many people in that room, and she was stealing my air.
I leaned closer to hear, and she leaned in to meet me. “I feel sick,” I said, louder than I needed to.
She frowned, pulling back in distaste. “Are you going to throw up?”
My stomach roiled at the thought. “I don’t know.”
She sighed heavily. “Do you want me to take you to the bathroom?”
My pride shrivelled and died under her pity. But I nodded. “Please.”
Sighing again, she crawled to the edge of the bed and then stretched out her scrawny legs to stand. “Come on,” she said, reaching out her hand.
My heart fluttered as my fingers found hers; how cliche. She pulled me to my feet and I let her lead me through the throng and out into the cool, quiet air of the hallway. There, as the door closed behind me, she let go of my hand.
“Come on,” she said again, and she floated away. I followed on my heavy, graceless feet.
When we reached the bathroom door, she held it open for me, and for some reason I was scandalized when she followed me in.
“What are you doing?”
She stared at me incredulously. “Really? Nobody cares. Would you rather sit in here alone?”
Chagrined, I shook my head and trudged into the nearest stall like a beaten dog. I heard the sink start, and the slap of wet fabric as she started to wash away the stains I had left. I dropped with a thud to the floor beside the toilet, and I leaned my head back against the wall. A moment later she joined me, locking the stall door behind her before she sat against the opposite wall. She asked gently, “Are you okay?”
Embarrassed, I nodded.
“Good. Shawn, right?”
Again, I nodded.
She smiled at me. She was so beautiful. “I’m Anna,” she said, and I smiled back.
We never did anything right.

*

She had nightmares. She never did tell me what they were about, or why they made her sweat and gasp the way that she did, but some nights, I’d fall asleep with my arms around her, her tiny frame moulding to my chest, and hours later, she’d start to scream so loud that she choked on them, or she’d start to fight against me, biting and clawing, or she’d start to shake so badly that the reverberations through her body would wake me up. I’d hold her, and say things like “it’s just a dream,” and “I’m here” and she never said anything. She always let me know that it wasn’t good enough.
Some nights she would set the alarm on her cell phone, so that it would wake her up just a few hours after she fell asleep, before the dreams could take such a solid hold over her. She always switched off the alarm before it could wake me, hiding the screen with her palm so that the light wouldn’t touch my face.
Somehow, she managed to get out of bed every night without waking me up. She’d stumble around in the dark, plugging in the kettle and scooping instant coffee into clean mugs as she waited for it to bowl. She would sit at my desk and doodle on the top with permanent markers. They’re still there now, a reminder that will last until some new soul claims this room at the end of the semester, or until a well meaning janitor scrubs them away with bleach.
A moment later, she would pour the hot water, and the smell that filled the room would wake me in a way that sound never could.
We’d sit up together until sunrise. She’d drag the desk chair across the room, beside the open window, blowing cigarette smoke into the night. Sometimes, once the sun had finished its bloody climb into the sky, we’d wrap each other in comforters and curl up together on the floor as I coaxed her back to sleep for a few more hours. Other days, we’d crawl back to bed with the taste of morning still on our tongues, and we’d find oblivion together in the sheets.
Now, for some reason, it’s those nights that I miss the most. My body doesn’t understand. It yearns for sleepless nights and solemn gifts of caffeine.
Sometimes I wake in the dark and I swear I can smell the coffee. I’ll stretch out my arms and throw my feet onto the floor. I’ll cross the room, where my kettle rests on the tabletops. I’ll look around for a few minutes, wondering where she is. I turn on my heel, glance around the room, feel the first tendrils of panic–
And then I remember that she’s dead.

*

She emailed me naked pictures of herself once. She called and woke me in the middle of the night, using a smokey voice she had learned from old movie stars. “Wake up,” she crooned, and I imagined dark red lipstick and those hard, stiff flapper curls. “Turn on your computer.”
“And then what?” I asked her, the anticipation building, my blood rushing. I ached for her.
“Check your email,” she whispered, her words kissing the receiver. And then she hung up on me. I tangled my legs and almost split open my skull in my mad rush to the desk and the secrets my computer suddenly held.
The only email waiting for me was from her. No subject, no message, just thirteen attachments; what a prophetic fucking number. I should have known.
The photos were clumsy. She took them in her living room, with no room mates to interrupt her as she fought with her digital camera. She was wearing too much make up, just like I thought she would, her lips glistening like apple skin and her eye lashes clotted with mascara. She was trying too hard to pose, and she had the lyrics to my favourite song written all over her skin. My name marched across her chest, in marker this time. My hands moved towards my waist, kept creeping lower, until I groaned as if she was with me.
After the funeral, when my well-meaning friends had finally retreated, I pulled my laptop onto my knees, and I clicked open the folder that I had hidden so carefully. I went through them slowly, staring at every detail until my face was smothered with salt and I pawed at the shape of her on the screen. And then, I deleted them, one at a time, and I made sure that I could never get them back.
I can still see them painted on the inside of my eyes; frescos that are plastered into my very anatomy. The way that the smudged ink melted into her skin, sliding over her bones. My name sinking into her heart, the ink poisoning her in a way neither one of us could see. It makes me crazy.
I don’t know what I’d do if I still had them. I think of her half closed eyes, the high colour in her cheeks; the pucker of her lips and the tangle of her hair. It makes me ache. It cuts me up from the inside out – I wish I had them, but I wouldn’t survive seeing them. My sanity saved me before it deserted for good.
She had a constant kind of panic that hid inside her eyes. Her scars left her skin thick and uneven, but so soft in my hands. If I could find a marker, I’d scribble the story of us all over my body. Bright red. I want to carve her memories into me. I think I’d like that; her ghost hovering in the corner, watching me use a razor blade so clumsily, when she had become so adept with hers. She would smile at me. She would guide my hands. Forgive my mistakes.
And this is how I remember her. I miss her all wrong.

*

Each morning, she crawled to the foot of the bed, and she would stretch her arms over her head as I watched the pull and twist of the tight muscles in her shoulders. She would scrub at her hair with both hands, igniting it to a frizzy cloud around her head before she flattened it back down. Her skin glowed in the semi-darkness of morning. When she stood, her legs always shaky for the first steps, I could spot the secrets hiding in the damp bend of her knees.
Wondering with aimless steps, she’d twist her hair up off of her shoulders. The sun kissed the golden down that grew on the back of her neck as she tied her tangles into a graceless knot. She kept bobby pins wedged into the frame of my mirror, and she’d pull two down to hold back her bangs, bearing her face and her arching forehead. Only then would she turn back to me, her eyes still half closed as she smiled. Usually she came back to bed. We’d lean against the headboard and crawl all over each other as we waited for the day to start. She’d scream with laughter and yank handfuls of my hair as I chewed on her skin.
Sometimes, though, mornings were hard for her. Sometimes the thought of stepping outside my door and back into the world was enough to reduce her to tears.
A few weeks before she died, she turned to me in the morning and she wasn’t smiling. She wrapped her arms around her waist like an embarrassed child, and her face collapsed under the weight of her own sadness. She tried to say something; I saw her lips move, but the words wouldn’t come. And I was frozen. I screamed at myself to go to her, I berated myself violently, wishing I could break my own bones. But I still didn’t move. Her tears started to flow as I watched, and even when she sobbed, I simply sat and stared. It wasn’t until she dropped to her knees and let her head hit the floor that I finally got my feet under me. And even then, I moved with sluggish steps. It seemed to take an eternity to get to her, as if her misery slowed time to a crawl. Finally, though, I reached her. She was there, at my feet. Hold her, my mind told me. Wrap her up in your body. Show her.
But I had never been in love before. I was so afraid. So I laid my hand awkwardly on her shoulder, and I rubbed her back as I leaned my head against hers.
“Come on,” I said gently, trying to pull her to her feet. “You need to go back to bed.”
She looked at me with wet, wild eyes, gasping for air behind the tangled cage of her hair. “I’m sorry baby,” she cried out, reaching for me with both hands. She pulled my face close to hers, clutching handfuls of fabric and flesh. “I’m sorry. I wish I was stronger. I’m so fucking weak.” She collapsed against me, a shaking ball of muscle and tendon.
I sighed. Sadness is tiring. I knew this, before I took hers on.
“What do you mean baby?”
“I wish I was strong enough to end it,” she whispered, burying her face in my chest, hiding her eyes from mine. “I can’t even fucking kill myself right.”
To protect myself from those words, I set up cold, hard distance. I could hear the callousness in my own flat voice as I locked my hand around her wrist and stood, pulling her with me even as she cried out in surprise.
“Come on,” I told her, “Let’s go back to bed.”
And she went with me. We took a funeral march back to my bed, and I tucked her in like a child before I crawled under the sheets beside her. I closed my eyes, and wished sound could be blocked as easily as sight as she cried to herself beside me.
She was reaching for me, and I had swatted away her hand. It was just so hard for me to accept the truth. I couldn’t believe that she was so miserable, that I wasn’t enough to make her happy.
And so I pretended that she was fine, every day, until the very last.

*

I wanted to give her everything.
From the first moment I saw her, I decided that she deserved the world, but I didn’t know how to give it to her. I tried so hard, but she still needed more. There was never enough to keep her happy, to satiate the beast that lurked in the back of her mind. She never really trusted me. She was never really happy; I couldn’t give her that.
Even when it seemed okay, even when she spent her days laughing and smiling and turning her shining eyes on me, she still needed more. She still glanced over her shoulder like a caged animal. Her lips still bowed down when she thought I wasn’t looking.
She was a constant struggle, and I was willing to suffer through it, but the time came when I ran out of ways to fight
“Make it better,” she said, and I tried, I tried. But she said, “No. Make it better.”
So I did the only thing that I could.

*

There are still nights when I miss her so much that it’s hard to bear, when I can feel her absence as a weight on my chest. So that I can’t breathe, so that my heart struggles to beat. I wake up alone in the dark and I can see her everywhere. I can feel the shape of her beside me, the warmth of her breath at the back of my neck, her tiny hands on my shoulders. I can see her in the shadows at every corner, her face in the folds of the sheets. I can smell her hair and very nearly hear her voice, and it makes me so lonely that my stomach roils and my throat feels so tight that it might burst.
And on nights like those, I want something. I don’t know what; it’s like a hunger that I can never feed. A deep, gaping hole that will always be empty. I don’t know what I need. I just need. I need a stranger to take my hair in their fists and yank, pull my head back until I can’t breathe. I need someone to suck my lips and hit me harder than I can stand. I want to see the vessels burst under my skin. I need to cling to someone and bite, harder, harder, harder, until their skin splits and the blood flows hot and salty down my throat. I need to go out into the night, find a seedy bar, say something stupid. Bump a stranger. Start a fight. Tear someone apart. Step out in front of a speeding truck. Anything.
Anything.
But before I do it, I think of her. I wonder if this is how she felt. And then I start to cry.

*

Yesterday, when my alarm went off, I didn’t think to count the reasons to get out of bed. I swatted the clock off of my nightstand, kicked the blankets to the foot of the bed, and stood nearly naked in the morning air. The blood rushed out of my head, leaving me dizzy and breathless, and without waiting for my thoughts to clear I bent to step out of my boxers. I tipped forward, with no hands to catch myself, and my forehead hit the hard floor. I picked myself up slowly, I knelt, and listened to the pain sing.
I dressed quickly, and I reached into the box on my desk for a granola bar as I headed out the door. I flew down the three flights of stairs and out into the lobby, pausing in the blinding light. It was as if I hadn’t seen the sun in years. Outside, there was a chill in the air, and it made me smile as I unlocked my bike and carried it out of the courtyard. It felt good to be moving. I straddled the bike and started to peddle. Usually, I take the bus to work.
After twenty minutes of thoughtless mechanics, beautiful numbness, I missed a turn I need to take. But instead of turning around, I rode my bike out of town. I found long stretches of road that I didn’t recognize, peddling faster and faster, until my legs ached. The pavement turned to gravel, and bright, leafy trees closed in on me. I laughed at the new world I had found. I kept going until I was exhausted, until there was sweat streaming down my back and I could hardly breathe, and then I left my bike in the ditch. I wandered into the field I had stopped beside, and I fell down in the corn, staring at the sun through the stalks. After a moment, my breath to came easy, and my heart stopped pounding. I rolled onto my side and fell asleep without thinking of her. I didn’t wake up until night fall.
It’s okay to be me, sometimes. To be honest, it still feels pretty damn good. Today, there is a purple bruise blooming beautifully above my eye.

*

My dad called me today, and the first thing he said was, “You haven’t been returning my calls,” as if I didn’t already know that. I looked out the window at the setting sun, lighting up the sky with bloody fire, and I listened to him talk until I couldn’t stand it anymore.
“Dad?”
And he said “Yeah?”
I shook my head, just for me. “Me and her, we were terrible together. I told her that once. I said to her, ‘I know that you make me angry sometimes, and that I make you cry sometimes.’ I said, ‘We’re a total disaster and everyone knows it, but we were made for each other.’ And i think I meant it. Do you know what I mean, dad? She was like a burning building to me, and I think it was the same for her. You look at it, and you know that it’s dangerous, and people keep telling you to just go home, that there’s nothing to see, but you’ve already caught a glimpse. And its just so damn beautiful that you have to get closer.”
Sounding overwhelmed and confused, he said, “Shawn…” and I shook my head again.
I said, “I’m sorry, dad.” And then I hung up the phone.

*

She didn’t like to talk about her life. A listener, an observer, she was never a storyteller. When it was clear that she knew everything there was to know about me, I was sure that I had learned absolutely nothing about her. Every time she offered a glimpse into her past, it was like a gift. Every offhand comment about the boys who broke her heart or the girls who threw their garbage at her was precious; I filed them away like video reels. She didn’t want to give me her past, but I needed it, I craved it, like a drug. I needed to know as much about her as she knew about me. I needed to make her real.
A few days before she died, we were sitting on my bed going through old photo albums. I showed her pictures from a camping trip I had taken when I was twelve or thirteen, when our campground had been over run with squirrels. They crawled into our hands and onto our shoulders, sitting while they ate. They seemed to know to pose for the cameras. They were performers.
She had laughed at the pictures of my dad buried up to his neck at the beach; had smiled at the pictures of me covered in melted marshmallows. When I came across a picture of a red squirrel sitting on my head, a shelled peanut held in its tiny paws, I was sure that she would like it. I would have let her keep it, if she had asked. With a smile, I offered it to her, and watched as she looked closer, waiting for her to react. But the smile faded from her face very slowly. It seemed to melt, as if it had never been there at all.
“Cute,” she mumbled, tossing the photo into my lap and dropping her eyes.
I didn’t know what to say. She looked up at me, forcing a tense smile, waiting for me to keep going, but I couldn’t. I had to understand. I knew that she wanted to tell me, even if she wouldn’t admit it on her own, and so for the first time, I pried. She wanted me to. She was letting me in deeper, the only way that she knew how.
So I said, “What’s wrong?”
She dropped her eyes, shook her head minutely. “I used to catch squirrels that looked just like those when I was younger.”
I almost laughed. Almost. “How the hell did you catch squirrels?”
But she was stoic. “I found traps in my old shed.”
Some strange instinct tried to warm me, chilling my stomach, but I didn’t listen. “Did you try to keep them as pets?”
She turned her wide eyes on me, shaking her head slowly. “No.” She frowned deeply, starting to twist a thin lock of hair around her fingers. She yanked on it viciously, her head jerking to the side with the force. But finally, she said, “I killed them. I set out traps and I caught them and then I drowned them.”
Words disappeared. language became meaningless. I could see her like a silent movie, reaching into the rusted cages. Young and scrawny, the way that I had seen her in photos, her dark hair falling into her eyes. i could see her sink a thrashing ball of fur under the water in a hard plastic kiddie pool. Holding them under. I shook my head, certain that I had misheard her.
I opened my mouth with no sound. It took time to remember where I had hidden my voice. “What?”
She put her hand on my knee gently, as if she were afraid that I would push her away. She looked up at me with huge eyes, suddenly swimming with the threat of tears. “I didn’t do it because I wanted to, it wasn’t for me.” She paused, her nails digging into my skin even through my jeans. Clutching me, clinging to anything real. “You believe me, right? I didn’t do it for me. It wasn’t like that.”
All I could feel was her claws in my leg, and it made me wonder if she had felt the rodent claws tearing at her wrists, begging for air.
“They were in our backyard all the time,” she said. “They’d come right up to the windows and put their feet on the glass, and at first I thought it was fun, but there eyes, Shawn. They started looking at me with those little black eyes, and they just looked so sad. I tried everything, but nothing made it better, they always just looked at me with those eyes. I had to.
I stared at her, at her face that was dissolving into hopeless tears. And here’s the really fucked up part. Looking at her? I understood.
“They were so sad, Shawn,” she whispered. “They were so sad, and I didn’t know what else to do.”

Alyssa Cooper is a born wordweaver, swallowing stanzas like sustenance and leaving thumbnails of poetry everywhere she goes. She was born in Belleville Ontario, where she lives with her vintage typewriters and her personal library. She is the author of two novels, Benjamin and Salvation, and a collection of poetry called Cold Breath of Life.

“For My Son” by Charles Bane

The Furious Gazelle is continuing to serialize Charles Bane’s new book of poetry, Love Poems. You can find last week’s poem here.

 

For My Son

 

I will not waiver or protest
that the wait is hard to bear;
The parent-to-be is patient Continue reading

Tammy and Tom: A short play by Jonathan Joy

TAMMY and TOM

A short play by Jonathan Joy

Copyright 2014 by the author

joyjonathan@yahoo.com

(Lights up on a visibly nervous TAMMY. TOM is in the background, approaching.)

TAMMY – (to audience) It’s taken me weeks, but I have finally worked up the nerve to ask Tom out. I’ve chickened out plenty, but not this…oh, here he comes.

TOM – Hi.

TAMMY – Hi.

TAMMY – (to audience) He said hi.

TOM – Did you say something?

TAMMY – No…I mean…I was just talking to myself…no…that’s not what I meant to say…

TOM – Okay…bye

TAMMY – Tom, wait.

TOM – Yes?

TAMMY – I was just wondering…if you’re not doing anything…I thought maybe you’d want to get together and get a bite to eat…heck, I could even cook something…I’m a pretty good cook…or we could go out…

TOM – That depends.

TAMMY – What?

TOM – What would we eat? What would you cook?

TAMMY – Oh, I don’t know…

TOM – I’m a vegetarian. I can’t eat meat.

TAMMY – Oh, that’s no problem.

TOM – Good. And nothing dairy based. I’m lactose intolerant, so I can’t have anything with milk or cheese.

TAMMY – Okay, I think we can work around that.

TOM – And nothing wheat based either…my allergies…I’ll blow right up.

TAMMY – What can you eat?

TOM – Not seafood! If there is shellfish within 35 feet of me, I’ll need to go to the emergency room. I could die.

TAMMY – (to audience) To think I was afraid he’d say no. Now I’m afraid of potential manslaughter charges.

TOM – And not Mexican. The last time I had Mexican food I was in the bathroom all night.

TAMMY – Ew. Too much information.

TOM – Fruits and vegetables are okay, but they have to be pureed into a complete liquid form. Even then, no green or orange vegetables and no red or blue or green or yellow fruits.

TAMMY – That’s crazy.

TOM – What? That’s really insensitive, Tammy. I don’t know if this is going to work out, after all. Maybe it’s best that we don’t…

TAMMY – You know, maybe we should just skip dinner. We could go see a movie.

TOM – That would be better.

TAMMY – Good. We don’t have to eat anything all.

TOM – You pick the movie, but nothing R rated, please.

TAMMY – Okay.

TOM – And nothing with singing or explosions…I like to avoid all loud noises altogether.

TAMMY – Okay. Why don’t I pick you up…Saturday?

TOM – No, no, no…I don’t leave the house on days that have the letter “u” in them.

TAMMY – Wait, I’ve got it! You come over…Friday…we’ll dine on tomato paste and cold water…then we’ll rent a movie and turn the volume way down…

TOM – Tammy, that sounds like perfect evening.

TAMMY – It does.

TOM – Yeah…I have a seven o’clock self-imposed curfew, though.

TAMMY – You know what, forget it. I’m sorry I asked. Forget it.

TOM – (to audience) What did I say?

 

 

Jonathan Joy is the author of 25 plays, including “The Princess of Rome, Ohio”, “American Standard”, the “Bitsy and Boots” series, and over a dozen one acts that are regularly produced. His work has been staged in 12 US states, from countless productions in his home state of West Virginia to Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway stages in New York City, and overseas in France and Dubai. Publications and features include the New York Times, Smith and Krauss, Brooklyn Publishers, Southern Theatre magazine, Insight for Playwrights, the One Act Play Depot in Canada, and more. He has won several regional writing awards and is the only two time winner (2005 & 2008) of the national “Write like Mamet” award sponsored by the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. His books have topped the Amazon charts in Theatre, Drama, Political Humor, and Christian Literature categories. Mr. Joy is an English/Writing Instructor at Ashland Community and Technical College in Ashland, Kentucky, where he enjoys his dream job and has been nominated for Teaching Excellence Awards five straight years. He is the son of James Edward Joy, a Biology professor once described by a colleague as, “…the conscience of Marshall University for forty years…” and Susan Karnes Joy, a retiree of the Corps of Engineers and the kind of woman that would gladly take her son out of school early to see “Return of the Jedi” on its opening day in 1983. He is married to his best friend, Rissie, who is a successful Scentsy Director (rissiejoy.scentsy.us) and is father to an enthusiastic, playful four year old son, Levi.

The author may be contacted at joyjonathan@yahoo.com for information regarding royalties for production of his work.

“The Two” by Charles Bane, Jr.

The Two

I think when God

walked shy to Moses,

stars clustered in his hands,

he led our rabbi down

to the orchards of the heart.

The two walked near the other

and traded dreams like brothers

before sleep. They paused

afield and watched the sun,

lifted by themselves in unison,

race overhead. And Moses knew

not to disappoint this man

with faltering steps or speech.

God wept uncomprehending

of his artistry and Moses scratched

some lines in stone to honor

a beloved friend.

Charles Bane, Jr. is the American author of The Chapbook (Curbside Splendor, 2011) and Love Poems (Kelsay Books, 2014). His work was described by the Huffington Post as “not only standing on the shoulders of giants, but shrinking them.” A writing contributor for The Gutenberg Project, he is a current nominee as Poet Laureate of Florida.

Poems from “Conditioned Response” by Gary Beck

Aging Process

Forgetful moments

alarming indicators

of the relentless approach

of deterioration,

subtracting the senses

from continuation,

the short supply of data

rapidly diminishing

ability to function.

 

 

Welcome to Afghanistan

The circling vultures

seeking meals ready to eat

prefer violent cultures

for the caterers they meet.

American troops will provide

modern ammo and arms

to tribesmen who reside

so close to war’s meat farms.

There is a tradition

that tribes sting like vipers

and fight best in position

when they can be snipers.

Loyalties are stratified,

bought, sold, or traded away

after being ratified

by those who prevail that day.

The war for democracy

is an arrogant invention

that deludes our society

in a wasteful intervention.

 

 

Ode to the City

The esprit of a city

expands, contracts,

in dynamic flux,

or is trapped in stasis

as the industrious strive,

exploiters and lunatics thrive,

and do-gooders try to endure

in the peculiar mélange

of the metropolitan hive,

throbbing, pulsing, urban horde,

ambitious, ruthless, kindless,

the frothing ingredients

of juxtaposed existence

indivisible

from its components.

 

 

Departure

Lilacs are the pain

striking recollection

of unintended separation

from a lost loved one,

an unexpected rejection

flowering in shock,

smashing continuation

of rich interludes.

 

 

Premature Signs

After a blanketing blizzard

covered the cowering city

for a cleansing interlude,

warmer weather snuck in,

deluding gullible birds

who began to sing happily

that hungry winter was over.

 

 

Disruptions

Snow clogs the city streets,

wind-blown into high drifts

preventing passage.

Urban dwellers complain

spoiled by ample services,

modern conveniences,

so far removed from nature

that winter’s demonstration

is a personal insult,

unable to conceive

that circumstances conspire

to thwart arrivals

at desired destinations.

Gary Beck has spent most of his adult life as a theater director. Published chapbooks include: ‘Remembrance’, Origami Condom Press; ‘The Conquest of Somalia’, Cervena Barva Press; ‘The Dance of Hate’, Calliope Nerve Media; ‘Material Questions’, Silkworms Ink; ‘Dispossessed’, Medulla Press and ‘Mutilated Girls’, Heavy Hands Ink. His poetry collection ‘Days of Destruction’ was published by Skive Press; ‘Expectations’, Rogue Scholars Press; ‘Dawn in Cities’, Winter Goose Publishing; ‘Assault on Nature’, Winter Goose Publishing. ‘Songs of a Clerk’ and ‘Civilized Ways’ will be published by Winter Goose Publishing. His novel ‘Extreme Change’ was published by Cogwheel Press; ‘Acts of Defiance’ was published by Artema Press. His collection of short stories, ‘A Glimpse of Youth’ was published by Sweatshoppe Publications. His original plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes and Sophocles have been produced Off Broadway. His poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines. He currently lives in New York City.

The Rocket Scientist by Matthew Laffrade

THE ROCKET SCIENTIST

Michael hated going to dinner parties, fundraisers, or any other formal gathering where he’d meet strangers. During introductions and pleasantries he’d always be asked what he does and he would have to reply with “rocket scientist”. At some point in the evening someone would always say “it’s hard but not as hard as what Michael does!” A slew of laughs would follow.
People would always ask him what he does “exactly”.
“So you’re a rocket scientist huh? So are you like an engineer?”
“No.”
“Oh, so more like a physicist then?”
“No. I am a rocket scientist.”

 

At this point he’d always feel the urge to slap people, an urge he came close to succumbing to on multiple occasions after a few scotches. What bothered him most is that people never got so detailed in their employment inquiries with others.
“What do you do?” they’d ask.

“Banker” the person would reply. That would be that. They may get more specific but it never got further than:

“What kind of banking?”
“Oh bonds and such.”

Not much by way of explanation and it really doesn’t say what the sorry sack did for a living “exactly” but it would do. It always did. This went for doctors and lawyers as well.

When Michael shared his frustrations with a friend, the friend, meaning well, told him to just say scientist when asked next. So he did. The exchange went like this:
“What do you do?”
“I’m a scientist.”
“What kind?”
“Rocket.”.
This is when the usual conversation would end. But not in Michael’s case.
“So what do you do exactly?” the person had asked.
Was it because all little boys wanted to be astronauts and that is why they’re so intrigued? Michael was at a loss. He wanted to start making up jobs. Not boring one word answer types but if people really wanted to talk maybe he could say he was a lion tamer or a mime or something.
As it stood he was driving to a fundraiser for some charity that helped provide scholarships to kids who excelled at the sciences. He white knuckled the steering wheel with both hands. Only when he removed his left one to wipe the sweat seeping from his scalp down his forehead did he realize his hands were cramped.
He turned down a side street and parked. The sun was setting and people were shuffling home from work or out for some fun. Michael wondered what they all did for a living. Did it even matter, he thought. Why should what I do be who I am? I am more than a rocket scientist, or much less for that matter. My existence is a constant rally of going to work and enjoying my job and going out and hating everyone who asks me about it. Why can’t I be content with people’s inquiries and describe to them the joys and successes that I experience in my work? Why do I hate them for their genuine curiosity? Why do I feel like some circus sideshow?
He locked his car and started walking. He came across a bar and went in. It wasn’t his usual type of place. Not low-brow or run down but certainly not the high class leather chair watering hole he was used to. It was more middle of the road. What a better place to keep to myself, he thought.
The waitress asked him for his order and not what his employment was. For some reason he expected that for some odd reason she would ask.
He spotted her; Jane was her name, from across the dining room area where he was seated. She was at the bar, drinking something he’d never seen and reading a newspaper. Michael had always been a little intimidated of women. He thought it was an inherent trait of the nerd. And to him the rocket scientist was atop the nerd pyramid, a messiah of all things lonely men cling to. He had had women before but usually other scientists or the like. He had never just approached a woman before that wasn’t somehow linked to his profession. He downed his pint in one gulp and went and sat next to Jane.
“Hi, I’m Michael,” he said extending his hand.
“Jane,” she said eyeing him in his tuxedo. She met his hand and he shook it like you would the father of a date not a woman whom you met in a bar.
“May I join you?” he asked, shocked by his own bravado.
“Sure.”
They sat in silence for a moment, taking each other in.
“May I ask why you’re wearing a tuxedo? Attending a special event tonight?” she asked.
“No, it’s the only thing that fit me.”
“I don’t get it. Was that a joke of some kind?”
“No. Thirteen years ago I lived here in this city. After building up a successful beginning in a career as a pilot I was on a two day break in Amsterdam. I went to a market on the first morning I was there and I met a man. A monk. I was eating a pear and he asked me how it tasted. It was good I told him. He asked me how the crunch was.”
“The crunch?” Jane asked.
“Yes, the crunch. He asked me about the quality of the crunch. It was fine I said and began to walk away. How about the grower, the person who picked it, the person that brought it to the market and sold it to you, do you think about them when you enjoy this fruit? Do you take a bite at a time and enjoy the different textures, the skin, the meat? He was asking me all these questions in the middle of a busy market. I would have thought him crazy if it weren’t for the attire from the monastery that he wore.
“I told him that I didn’t think much when I ate, I just ate to feed my body. He told me that I can feed my soul with food as well. He called it mindful eating. He invited me to the monastery for dinner that night.”
“And you went?”
“At first I wasn’t going to. I was tired as anything and I’d be flying out the next night and just wanted to enjoy my downtime. I thought about it though and figured I had nothing to lose. It’d be a story to tell at the least.
“So I went to the monastery that evening and I really didn’t know what to expect. It was a nice place, not too far outside the city. I didn’t even know they had monasteries there. I thought I’d be the only regular person there but there were other regular people, mostly locals and from speaking with them some of them had eaten there before.”
Michael took an extended sip of the pint handed to him by the bartender. He couldn’t believe what was coming out of his mouth. Where was this all coming from? He felt the dim light of the bar in his bones, he heard the slightest movement of a chair or the clink of a fork hitting a plate. His senses were heightened. He felt so alive. He looked at Jane who was listening intently. She was intrigued and he was so exhilarated. He was beginning to get an erection from it all. He took another sip and continued as much for the woman who hung on his words as for himself who didn’t know where this was going either.
“So I was lead to this great dining hall and we all sat at this grand hand carved table. There was about 30 or 40 monks and about a dozen lay people there. The atmosphere was relaxed and so exciting. It was so new. I was soaring to feelings I had only felt in the fleeting moments of my youth.
“After everyone was seated someone hit a small gong near the head of the table. Another monk, whom I assumed was the leader came in and addressed us. He told us that we were here as their monthly open house to teach people about mindful eating. We were to eat our meals slowly he said. To properly observe our meals we were to put our utensils down after each bite. We must consider our food, truly experience each atom of it. We were to not speak at all unless addressed by him, who was referred to as Sifu.
“A few monks came out from a side room which I assumed housed the kitchen. They placed before each of us a small bowl of a rice and vegetable mixture. It was fragrant and colourful and we were instructed to observe the mixture of food. Think of the farmer who grew the broccoli, the trader who first introduced the spice to this part of Europe, the truck driver who brought the rice to the Netherlands. We were to observe all of this for about five minutes before eating. By the time we were told to pick up our forks I was salivating.
“I took my first bite and swallowed within seconds, without truly appreciating the food. The texture, the flavours, the experience. I sat in anguish looking at my fork waiting for the instructions to take another bite. It was madness I thought and fought the temptation to shovel my food and plow through the meal.
“By the second course I began to get it. I tuned out the world and I believe I ate for the first time in my life that evening. It’s such a reflex, a filling of an urgent bodily need that I never truly enjoyed it before.”
Michael sat silent for a few moments and Jane silently sipped her drink taking it all in.
“That sounds so serene. That is a truly fantastic story. I don’t mean to get off the topic of the monastery but you had said all this was about the tuxedo?”
“Absolutely. I was so amazed by all of this. So absolutely filled with a desire to feel. My whole life up until that point was a series of moments lived to attain a means whether it was social status or career advancement or what have you. What I learned there was I could live for the moment. Live for what I am doing now. I was so preoccupied with living for the next moment I let every single second of my life pass me by. I never left.”
“You stayed at the monastery?”
“Yup. It wasn’t easy to convince the monks let me tell you. These monks were 30th, 40th generation Buddhist monks and here I was a pilot from the western world trying to convince them to let me stay. They thought I was some yuppie trying to do something to impress my yoga class or something. I went for a walk through an orchard that night with Sifu and he said he’d let me stay for one week. That one week got extended for thirteen years.”
“Why did you leave?”
“A few weeks ago I was walking with one of the monks, one whom I had grown very fond of in my time at the monastery and he asked me why I didn’t leave? Now I understand this may seem a tad abrupt and even offensive but it was direct and sincere and real and from the heart. In this city we are so consumed with people’s ulterior motives we look for underlying meanings in everything they say. If someone is direct we see it as rude. What we fail to understand is when two humans have a genuine love for one another, a genuine compassion for one another’s well-being and happiness such annotations and backhanded compliments cease to exist. If we know that every word spoken is thought through with the same intensity we take each bite of our food with then we shall truly hear the speaker and must consider their words with the same thoughtfulness and soundness for which they thought them with.
“So when he asked me that question I truly thought about it. So much so in fact that it took me over a week to answer him and in that time I didn’t utter a single word. What was I doing there? What was I accomplishing in my time and what did I hope to achieve staying there? I awoke one morning and just realized I had accomplished all I could there. I wasn’t a monk, never claimed to be, and never planned to be. I was just a man who wanted to learn to live. I learned how. It was time to go out and practice what I learned. I told Sifu and I left this morning. The clothes I had come with were too big and Sifu had this old tuxedo lying around for whatever reason even he could not remember. The others found it fitting that I would return to the western world in a tuxedo of all things like it was some sort of royal reception.”
“Well that explains the tuxedo,” Jane said with a smile.
Michael couldn’t believe what just happened. What struck him was this was the first woman he had had a connection with in years and it was built on a lie. Very unlike the fake self he had created.
“So tell me Michael what are you going to do now?”
“I don’t know. I doubt I can go back to flying as I’ve been away much too long. I’ve always had an affinity for science. Maybe I’ll become some sort of scientist.”
He waited. With a trembling hand he took a sip of his pint and stared at Jane, waiting with cocoons birthing butterflies in the pit of his stomach for the dreaded follow-up question. She never asked. She didn’t seem to care.
Matthew Laffrade’s fiction and poetry has been published in various publications including The Wilderness House Literary Review, Sassafrass Literary Magazine, Verse Wisconsin, The Coe Review, Hitherto, and Requiem Magazine, amongst others. He is also the recipient of the University of Toronto’s Harold Sonny Ladoo Book Prize for his novella Past Present. He is currently at work archiving his work at www.matthewlaffrade.wordpress.com. He lives outside of Toronto, Canada.

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The Author’s Autopsy by Stacey Lane

Photographer: Michael C. Moore. (2013)

Briana Osborne and Jennifer Royer in The Author’s Autopsy at Changing Scene Theatre Northwest in Bremerton, Washington. Directed by Pavlina Morris and Kyle Boynton. Photographer: Michael C. Moore. (2013)

 

 

Stacey Lane

Lane’s plays have been performed at over four hundred theatres on six continents. Her scripts are published with Furious Gazelle,  Dramatic Publishing, Playscripts Inc., Pioneer, Eldridge, Smith and Kraus, Heuer, Brooklyn Publishers, Next Stage Press, Manhattan Theatre Source, JAC Publishing, Thunderbolt Theatre & Film Productions, Seraphemera Books, San Luis Obispo Little Theatre, Sterling, Freshwater, Poydras Review, The Quotable, Euphony Journal, Germ Magazine, Mock Turtle Zine, Indian Ink, The Other Otter, Monologue Database, Actor Point, Canyon Voices, Whoopee Magazine, Steel Bananas and Scene4.  She is the recipient of the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation Residency Grant, the Montgomery County Arts & Cultural District’s Literary Artist Fellowship and winner of the Unpublished Play Reading Project Award at the American Alliance for Theatre and Education.www.StaceyLaneInk.com

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