Monday, September 19, 2011

Snowflake

Snowflake
dave bostian & anna whitlock

            She was the kind of girl who’d gotten a snowflake tattoo on her foot—a very lovely foot, actually, nice arch, very curvy—but once she realized what a cliché it was (the tattoo, that is), she took the thing clean off with a hairdryer. The snowflake melted and the water from it trickled down into her toes—most of it eventually finding the floor through the valley between her big and second toes. The cat lapped up some of the water and wound up with a small snowflake tattoo on its sandpapery tongue. As to the rest of it, well, there is still an ink stain on the bathroom floor, also in the shape of a snowflake. But it doesn’t look a damn thing like the one from her foot. The thing about snowflakes is, each one is a little bit different than the one before.
            Anyway, it was shortly after that episode that I left her. Make no mistake, I loved her. I loved her intensely. But she couldn’t have been too fond of me. The way I figure it, she wanted to leave me, but she was too good a person to go around breakin’ someone’s heart like that—even if it was someone she wasn’t too fond of. She was that kind of person. She was that selfless. God I loved her. We used to shop for records together, but we just didn’t have the same taste. She’d buy Elton John and I’d buy the Jesus Lizard. I learned to love Elton John, and Iron & Wine, and all that sissy shit. And sure, she claimed to like the Jesus Lizard. But now I know she was just being kind—she’d been faking all along. She learned all the words to Countless Backs of Sad Losers not because she really believed it was a great song, but because she was a goddamned saint. A goddamned saint! So sincere in her selflessness that no artifice whatsoever came through in her performance. Hell, she didn’t just listen to the records and learn the words—she went to the shows with me, too. And she’d seem more excited than I was. When we saw the Jesus Lizard at the Metro, she insisted on being in the front row—got pinned up against a steel gate and had bruises on her chest for weeks, got kicked in the head by that crazy little “singer” of theirs, too. But she screamed louder than anyone there. She screamed so loudly she knocked her voice out for a bit. I know ‘cause on the way home, when she was singing along to Benny and the Jets, well, her hoarse little voice cracked and crackled like a campfire. She couldn’t even hit the higher notes.     
But in the end, it was only the snowflake I could think about—the way the damned thing just melted off, with a hairdryer of all things! She decides one day she doesn’t want it anymore and just like that it’s gone. Not even enough heat to hurt her skin. I’d kissed that same foot—that very tattoo—so many times, and nothing.
When you’re in love with someone you’re supposed to get hot for them.

Splinter

Splinter
dave bostian & anna whitlock
            The sliver was in pretty deep. It went in at a funny angle—not straight by any means. And it hadn’t punctured all seven layers of skin, either. (There are seven layers of skin, right?) Your biggest fear is that all the rumors are true—you can get one so bad that the nurse can’t get it with tweezers. When that happens they send you to see the janitor. He’s a nice enough guy, but you’re eight and he’s old and tall and skinny and the stubble in his balding head is gray and you’ve seen him clean up puke and you wouldn’t clean up puke no matter how much money they were paying you. He throws wood chips in it before he scrapes it into that broom pan thing—the one with the handle. You wouldn’t even touch the handle on that thing after it had been filled up with somebody’s puke.
It’s dark, too—the sliver—not black, but a deep, dark brown. And it’s long, maybe a quarter of an inch but it seems like it’s as long as your backyard, from the patio to the wood pile. (You’ve gotten a lot of slivers from that wood pile). You should have known better than to try and take over the fort. Recess lasts forever sometimes. No one can keep girls out of the fort for that long.
If they send you to the janitor he goes to work on you with a heated needle. You can’t imagine why he’d heat the needle. Would he just pull out a lighter (the green one that he lights his Marlboros with) from his pocket and do it right there in front of you? It’d be somehow even worse if he just struck a match. You’d hear the long, sharp strike and the flickering sound of the sulfur which you’d smell clear into the top of the back of your throat. And you’d see the flame—blue in the center at the bottom and yellow on all sides around—and you’d know it was coming for you, that you’d feel it, too. That’d be awful—to experience that match with all four senses. Oops, you’ve forgotten one, haven’t you? Yes, there are definitely five senses. But which one did you leave out? Doesn’t matter, the match will definitely get that one, too, whichever one it is. But why would anyone go to work on a kid with a heated needle anyway? That part can’t be true, can it?
It’s almost kind of cool. Your skin is translucent above it, and it’s got enough girth to provide some lift, some separation. There is really a lot of substance to that thing. You can see the space between the separate layers of skin. Skin is no longer a single thing—you know its secrets now, you know that skin is really plural. There are the skin above and the skin below the sliver. But you don’t mean to call it a sliver anymore. You’ve heard the other kids talking about splinters and you think that sounds more sophisticated. If you were sure the nurse could get it with tweezers you’d tell her right now just for the satisfaction of saying the word out loud—splinter. She wouldn’t know any better, she’d think you had always called it that.

Isaac

Isaac
dave bostian

In the factory was a garden and in the garden were ponds, seven of them—red-gold and teeming with koi. "An emotional breed," he said, "and they absolutely love you."
She could hear their hearts flutter as she walked at them. They puffed their bellies and leapt in excitement, then crowded at the edge of the polished stone basin and wagged their fins like the tails of good-natured puppies.
 "Oh, they're wonderful," she said, "all of them…But these three here…Oh, these three are special…I'm going to call them by the names of my children…"
"And this one here is Isaac, like the sickly one, but he's not sick, he just needs more room to grow." And at that Isaac leapt straight from the water into her open hands and tuned his soft heart to the tone of her pulse.
"You see," she said, "every good boy needs a mother."
"Oh, Isaac, Isaac, what are we going to do with you? We need to find you a bigger home, don't we?"
"Oh, I do hope you won't miss your brothers and sisters. And they're such good children really, but even the sweet ones are capable of neglect. Michael and Esther are wonderful, wonderful children and any mother would be happy to have them. Oh, but Isaac. Isaac is the special one. What is it that keeps the wonderful ones from getting along with the special ones? We need to find you room to grow."
Isaac gasped in ecstasy—finding love, for the time being, more useful than water.
She carried him on from pond to pond, trying each but loving none.
"Oh, seven ponds, seven ponds and not one of them right! Not enough room, not enough green, not enough light, too many other fish. What are we going to do with my precious little Isaac?"
"What about that one?" he asked. "I think there is an eighth pond…over there…see?"
"Oh, Isaac, look at that. Perhaps you've found a father as well." Her lips curled at the corners and she presented her fine white teeth to the kind, mysterious gentleman. It was the most dangerously erotic she'd been in years.
"Well it sure is a funny looking pond…and the lights are so bright. It looks more like a pool than a pond. A swimming pool."
"Well, you may as well try it anyway. And I think Isaac needs to catch his breath," he urged. His voice came from everywhere at once, like the voice-over to an old cigarette commercial. And he had a very honest face.
"Well, I suppose there's no harm in trying one more…just for a second." She lowered her arms slowly, considering the peculiar nature of this particular pond. Isaac, anxious, and in desperate need of a breath, leapt.
He had just gotten in when she noticed the smell.
"Oh my God, Oh my God!?! Is that chlorine?"

The Morning Cigarette

the morning cigarette
dave bostian
                The word persecution is a pretty relative term, he knew—its definition widely dependent upon the epoch in which it is uttered or thought. I haven't even been stabbed, he reminded himself, and here I am bitching and moaning to myself about religious persecution. Fuck, plenty of people would've thought they'd gotten out easy if only they'd been stabbed first!
He flicked the long ash of his mostly-for-posture and highly contemplative morning cigarette, with which he could gauge the passing of time between introspection and the call for action, but for which his lungs were not yet ready, onto a pile of wet leaves that had become so bogged down with the rot of its ancestors and the muddy sludge they'd become that it had no chance of ever catching a free ride out on the wind and would have no choice but to sit and wait patiently for its opportunity to be raked up next year—assuming he'd have less going on at the time. He thought for a moment about coffee, mostly just its smell, and decided to not let today be another day governed by irrational emotions and delusions of persecution. Big fuckin' deal, he thought, so I got kicked out of another stupid Bible study. At that precise moment a strange cloud descended upon him.
What seemed to be several thousand (but could have just as easily been a hundred or so) birds, probably something generic like robins, appeared from beyond the clumsy horizon the roof of his late-seventies trailer had strewn across the sky, between his point of view and the north. A frantic and noisy cloud completely unaware of the hollowness of its own bones and anxious to descend upon and devour more worms and spiders than anyone could ever accuse him of keeping in his humble little home. It could have been a sign from God for all he knew. It probably wasn't but it could have been. He stood up, wiped the mud from the soles of his flip-flops on the saturated dollar general welcome mat outside the door (before deciding to kick them off and leave them on the porch anyway), and went inside.
                With that many birds in the air one of them was bound to take a shit.

Air Conditioning


Air Conditioning
dave bostian

            Society is dying, I can feel it in my heart, he was thinking. He twirled his keys around on the ring, then twirled the ring around on his finger. You can see it in the desperation of our celebrities. He’d been fascinated by Jim Morrison in his youth—suspected, somehow, that celebrities were more pure, more sacred, in those days…Our celebrities used to be narcissists; they lived the lives we wanted to live and indulged the sentiments and selfishness we couldn’t find the courage to pursue in our own little lives. We wanted to be them…in those days he’d never lived through.
The summer was waging a hot war in his body and in his neighborhood. He felt that his tissues and his muscles connected him somehow to the world alive and dead beyond him—a notion he could feel in his bones. He imagined the heat of the LA Riots (he remembered, falsely, an August explosion). He was drenched in sweat because the earth and every living thing upon it had grown suddenly overheated.
…But we didn’t get to—we were given normalcy instead. At first, maybe, it hurt a little—there was a little jealousy—but nonetheless we retreated quietly to suburban lives and pretended to believe in the world our labor was building. We pretended so long we began, actually, to believe in it.
He stared at a little cup full of jewelry—dangling over the edge were several pair of earrings he had bought for her. The first time he bought her earrings she thought it was really sweet. So he kept buying earrings—like some one-hit-wonder desperately attempting to repeat a winning formula. But his subsequent attempts managed, rather, to merely dull even the initial effort. Her mother bought her earrings, too. As did her friends. These days she mostly wore the earrings Kelly had bought for her. His dangled, night after night, from the edge of a little cup. He had more fingerprints on the cup than she did. He was the one who twirled it around and pondered its contents on restless nights when he should have been working.
Now our celebrities are mangled and horrified caricatures—desperate for recognition as art. We no longer even want to be them, though sometimes we feel we need to be them to escape the pain of every other option.
It was so hot he considered dying. Though he considered that in the cold, too. And then, when the weather was bland—especially then—he’d think what’s the point? If you could put thoughts of death in a cup, it’d be so muddied with his fingerprints you’d hardly recognize it anymore. Nonetheless, he’d never kill himself. He knew that much. He twirled his keys again.
Our sheer numbers provide the promise that some of us will make it but the guarantee that most of us won’t. When he was young and stupid he couldn’t stand the thought of anonymity. Now he wished for its purest form—the kind which would mean his literal nonexistence. He pondered mental illness—whether or not such a thing exists the way they describe it in magazines. Was it just bad chemicals?
Terrified, we are hauled kicking and screaming to suburban hospitals instead of homes. We’ll get out later and shoot our neighbors. They always just say “that guy was crazy” ‘cause they’re scared to admit they’ve considered the very thing over hijacked parking spaces or bad brushes with customer service. Another place he was certain he would never go, but not afraid to admit he understood. Our celebrities, too, will kill themselves and their neighbors—their escape from ordinary lives testimony to the fact that it is not our normalcy which has become intolerable, but our modern rotten humanity itself.
            He cranked the AC—a crappy little window unit. It buzzed and farted like his gassy old neighbor wrestling a yellow jacket over a can of warm soda, but it wasn’t going to help with the heat. A lot of things in this world make a great deal of noise, but few can truly improve upon the weather. He turned on his favorite record—it doesn’t matter which one, just pick your favorite and pretend it was that. The vinyl popped and hissed (or maybe it buzzed and farted). He cranked the volume—as loud as it would go.
He set the keys down on the table and walked outside—locking the door behind him.

The Baptism of Baby Jessica


The Baptism of Baby Jessica
dave bostian

            Jared was passed out drunk on the couch again and Karen's eyes weren't blue anymore. She couldn't believe he drank all the beer. What an asshole—he knows Uncle Tommy won't babysit if there isn't any beer in the fridge. He'll just wander off to the Sidetrack again and God only knows what we'll find Carly up to when we get home, she thought, knowing there was no point in fighting and no hope of reasoning with Jared. At least the jerk finally fell asleep. Poor Carly, what's she gonna think of us when she grows up?
Karen's eyelids twitched when she tried to keep them open. It's been that way a lot since the doctor put her on the "medicine". Jared says it's bullshit—if she wants to quit she'll just quit and he can't stand paying 45 dollars a week just to give his lazy wife an excuse for being sleepy. But Karen thinks the doctor knows what he's talking about. "I have a disease," she always says, "and I need my medicine if I want to get better."
Karen's feet had little cuts all over them from walking on glass but she didn't really notice. She had the hard, curved feet of a ballerina, which could be rivaled only by those of a billion (mostly) dead Chinese women in their tolerance for pain. And anyway, what ballet couldn't numb, the methadone could. Karen never even noticed the bloody little footprints with which she decorated the house in her virtual sleepwalk. Jared will probably notice tomorrow and another TV set might get broken, but for now everything was calm—even the things that were bleeding. Sarafina was licking sores, but without all of the usual smacking noises. Somewhere on the counter, above the piles of junk mail, broken toys, food scraps, and sticky stuff, a flea squirmed—it kicked, fussed, scooted around on its back. I'd hate to know exactly what it was that could make a flea squirm.
            The house smelled like cat shit and I'm sorry but there's no nice way of saying that. Cat shit, brown rice, cigarettes, and liquid aminos—a strange combination to be certain, but Jared aimed to get healthy despite the drinking and even if the cat was dying and the wife was a chain-smoking junky. There was something else, too, something less honest than shit and thirty-three times as foul, but no one could ever quite put their finger on it—maybe it was all the tumors in Sarafina's milk ducts. Does cancer have a smell?
Before Jared passed out he told Karen there was no God and Carly was worried about him. She didn't want her daddy to go to hell. She cried for a few minutes in the playroom, but she said her prayers and wiped her eyes real good before she came out—she didn't want to make her mommy any sadder.
On her way out of the playroom, Carly stopped and picked up Baby Jessica (who could cry real tears if you squeezed her arm and even wet her diapers like a real baby girl, and whose face had been tattooed so many times with crayon and marker it would never be flesh-colored again) and started teaching her the alphabet.
"A, B, C, D, E, F, G…" she sang. Baby Jessica wasn't singing along, but that was okay—most girls don't learn the alphabet 'til they're five anyway, Carly knew. Carly got bored with the alphabet song and had made a big decision.
"Mommy?" she asked.
"Yeah, hun?" Karen returned in a medicated, half-asleep, cracked and raspy voice.
"Will you fill up the sink?"
"Ohhhhh," Karen sighed, "I suppose…are you gonna give Baby Jessica another bath?"
"No mommy, I'm not…I'm going to baptize her…so she can go to Heaven when she dies and be with me and you and Jesus and Sarafina."
Karen thought it was too cute to bother correcting her doctrine; it was so cute she almost started crying. She walked over to Carly, mussed her adorable blonde curls, kissed her puffy, flea-bitten cheek, and squeezed her so tight it almost hurt. "What would I do without you?" she asked, composing herself as her bloody feet carried her into the kitchen.
Karen moved all of the filthy dishes to one side of the sink, and began filling the other with lukewarm water. Just right for a comfortable baptism, she thought, remembering how cold hers was and forgetting for a second that this was for a doll.
            "Sink's ready Carly-Girl," Karen called as she sat down on a barstool and pulled out a cigarette. Carly walked the resolute walk of a child on a mission from God. She stepped into the kitchen, Baby Jessica in her arms, took one look at Karen and said "Mommy, you can't smoke at a baptism."
            "I'm sorry Honey, you're absolutely right," Karen exclaimed as she knocked off the cherry and tucked her three-fourths of a perfectly good cigarette away into a safe corner of the ashtray for later, and cupped her hands for prayer.
            "Mommy,"
            "Yeah, baby-girl."
            "Will you say a prayer?"
            "I sure will, close your eyes…" Carly and Karen closed their eyes and bowed their heads. "Dear Lord Jesus," Karen prayed "thank You for loving us and please accept Baby Jessica into your Heavenly family, A-men."
            "Okay, mommy, now it's my turn, keep your eyes closed," Carly commanded, as she inched nearer the sink and raised Baby Jessica in preparation for the ceremony. "Dear Lord Jesus," she began "thank you for loving me and mommy and Sarafina and please forgive daddy and please bless this water so it can wash away all of Baby Jessica's sins and she can go to Heaven with you…" Carly prayed as she lowered Baby Jessica into the lukewarm water and…
            "AHHHHHHHH!!!!"
            Karen opened her eyes and jumped to her feet and grabbed Carly and was trying to figure out what was going on when she saw just one of its hairy legs barely touch the water as it crawled out from under Baby Jessica's dress and hopped onto the counter.
            "AHHHHHHHH!!!!" Karen screamed.
            "AHHHHHHHH!!!!" Carly screamed again, the two of them as frightened and frantic as any two girls have ever been in any of Jared's favorite movies.
            Jared stumbled, fumbled, flopped, and ran into the kitchen in a disoriented, still-drunk and still-sleeping but ready-to-kill stupor, bumping his shoulder quite fiercely against the wall as he passed through the doorway, and screamingly inquired: "What the fuck is going on out here?!?!!!?"
            "Over there!!! Over there!!!" Karen frantically pointed, certain it was looking her right in the eyes and ready to pounce at any second.
            "Oh shit…shit…what the fuck is that? It's not a fucking brown recluse, is it?" Jared anxiously inquired, getting nervous and feeling a bit of a tingle in the vagina-shaped scar on his arm—the one from which they drained all the pus the last time he'd been bitten. The one that made every spider look poisonous and enormous.
            "Oh God, Oh God, calm down…I think it's a fucking wolf spider," Karen assured him.
            "It's not a fucking wolf spider…what the fuck is it? Jesus fucking Christ, look at its eyes!" he retorted.
            Jared grabbed a piece of newspaper from the pile of crap on the counter and rolled it up. Carly had run clear to the other end of the kitchen, her skin was crawling with fear. Karen was jumping up and down and cringing and putting the “feminazis” back a hundred years. Jared was just about to bring the newspaper down with a primal ferocity when Karen screamed "NO!!"
She grabbed his arm, halting the swing, handed him a jar and was practically crying when she said:
            "We can't kill it, it's been baptized."