Ever since I was small, I’ve always imagined myself somewhere else when I go to sleep. Someplace outdoors, usually, someplace wild, a rainforest or a mountainside or an island off a rocky coast. I’ll be traveling, escaping something maybe, and I’ll have found or made some kind of shelter. Rain or snow or wind will be battering it, but I’ll be warm and protected.
Of course, I knew when I ran away from home that it wouldn’t be like that, and it wasn’t. I slept in a tent pitched under a leaning redwood stump in a canyon north of Mendocino, less than twenty-five miles from home. It was summer, so there was no snow or rain, but every morning and most afternoons there was cold fog that couldn’t be kept out. My feet felt like blocks of wood. Banana slugs clung to the outside of the tent. Spiders found their way into my sleeping bag. I was living on apple juice, peanut butter, and raisin bread.
I spent too much time thinking. About my mother’s suicide, about who should or shouldn’t have done or said what, about how it played out in parallel universes. We’d all seen it coming, my father and my brother and I. She’d been depressed, delusional, obsessive for years. But (as I saw it that summer, anyhow) I was the only one who felt guilty about it, who thought there was something more we could have done. My father seemed fatalistic about it, my brother downright nonchalant. That was what had driven me out of the house, that one last feeble protest I felt I had to make. Continue reading
There was nothing more distressing for Lucas than walking the halls of the hospital. He shuffled his slippers in agonizing slowness while pulling an IV cart by his side as if it were an annoying friend that couldn’t take no for an answer.
He dreamt of being with Diane, walking along the Mesa of Santa Barbara that overlooked the beautiful ocean vista. They loved to lean against the wooden fence at the edge of the cliff and watch the speed boats cut across the Pacific, the hang gliders soaring so effortlessly in the sky, and the surfers balancing on their boards while riding the cresting waves.
Lucas labored alone down the hallway of the Pulmonary Care Unit with two defective lungs, a heart that was barely beating, and an IV cart joined at the hip. Continue reading
Matt pushes open the rear door to the office and creeps across the floor in torn jeans and a flannel shirt. He wipes his nose on his sleeve and peers through the square hole separating the front office from editorial. He clenches his teeth against the bitter air, but can’t discern any sounds except the light tapping of a keyboard and the radiator clicking. Then a woman’s voice and then another buzzes like a radio going in and out of tune. Leaning closer, he attempts to translate the sounds into language, but can only make out hard k’s and soft s’s. One of them is Jean, his editor, and the other is Mary Ellen, the 25-year old receptionist. His girlfriend. Maybe they’re talking about the weather or the details for an important delivery, but Mary Ellen’s face, when he saw her a moment earlier through the front glass window, had the look of someone sharing important secrets. A chair scrapes against wood and Matt abruptly steps backwards, careens over Jean’s desk, and crashes into her chair, spilling it on its side. He rushes to his own desk and turns on his computer. It’s just coming to life when he feels a tap on his shoulder.
“When’d you get in?” Jean comes around to the front of his desk.
“A few minutes ago.” Continue reading
Has anyone actually died of boredom playing trains with their toddler? Marty pushed Thomas around the track, followed by too many cars. He took a tight turn and the last five cars slipped from the grooves, flopping limply to the side. Being a master engineer, Marty was no stranger to this, and calmly filed the trains back where they belonged. Continue reading
Photo by Brian Michael Barbeito
The wooden dock’s planks groaned beneath the blazing Florida sun. Neal adjusted his sunglasses. He watched as a snowy egret took a step with one of its long twig-thin black legs. It paused, then stretched its swan-like neck and body with the precision of a ballet dancer. Neal tucked a pinch of tobacco between his lower lip and gum. As he folded his sun-freckled arms, the bird took a few quick steps, then lumbered skyward. Continue reading
Gordo, Alabama, USA.
October 31st, 1933.
Charlie Wannemaker and Eddie Brackett spent the afternoon making the exemplary scarecrow. First they’d dragged the ragged old scarecrow off its stake down on ol’ Henderson’s corn field. They folded its straw-filled limbs up nice and tight and toted him in a red wagon all the way to Charlie’s barn. Henderson’s scarecrow was okay, but it wouldn’t do for the great stunt they had in mind for the night. Not without a touch of restoration.
“If we’re gonna do it, we’re gonna do it right,” Charlie instructed. Continue reading
My sister was the only person I knew who took photos at funerals. The snap and whir of her SLR was hard to ignore as it echoed up the aisle from the back of the church. There was never a flash, only the windows offered light to the mourners, but that sound – I’ll never forget it.
She started with strangers, the white-haired shadows we saw shuffling to the church across the road from our house on Sundays. When a hearse crawled along the street and into the carpark, the driver’s face a sombre mask behind the window, she would throw on the black graduation gown that slid easily over anything she was wearing, and grab the camera. An hour later she would return, sighing with relief, like a burden had been lifted. Continue reading
It occurred to me at some point during our second date that Mike might not exist in real time.
When we first met, he seemed friendly—cruelty-free, like a human-sized rabbit. We ate at Lenny’s Subs off I-35. On the way, he wheeled his big, white Texas truck backwards through the drive-thru of a shuttered restaurant. It seemed like the perfect accident—a ploy to make me accept his wonky habits.
Waiting in line at the shop, he cracked jokes that made me roll with laughter. I told him I used to work there—that I was once a struggling sandwich artist who was so busy fixing cold cuts and meatball marinara, I hardly had time to sit down and eat them. Continue reading
I stare at the corpse in the mirror. How desperately the dry, clay-colored skin clings to its skull. Rubbery. How narrow its tired eyes are, weighed down by the dark satchels hanging from them. How many broken vessels I could count beneath its sullen cheeks. A nebula of spider veins. A paint-splattered canvas. Children do not want to see this.
I am the owner of this dead reflection.
One time Lee actually screamed on an airplane. It had been one of those horrible situations with a seemingly endless delay on the runway and he had fallen asleep before the plane took off. He awoke to the unsettling bumps and skips of the plane lifting off in bad weather, shaking and dipping erratically. It had not been a conscious decision, the scream. He simply woke and screamed simultaneously, all at once, before he even knew what he was doing. He was 32 at the time. He had a middle seat. To his left on the aisle was an old lady who smiled sadly at him. Next to him on the window seat was his girlfriend of the past two years, Katherine. Continue reading