I had quite a discussion with the two other members of a small reading group about this next short short. One of the members likes commas and proper word spacing and verisimilitude and she became agitated and sort of erupted after my reading — over the months she’d tolerated my style pretty well — and I felt not a little like the male character in the story. And I thought,Hey, it works! We had a very cordial discussion over lunch a couple days later. She’s a very good poet and she’s been getting some significant recognitionlately. The other member of our little group is also a poet, much milder in her critical approach but nevertheless probing, astute, and honest.
Monthly Archives: October 2011
I dream of babies the guy says, all scruffy and gangly. Other people dream of other things, dreary things, spiders for instance or roaches, mayhem, seduction, nonsense. I dream of babies, hundreds at a time, they’re up on stage careening around like a bunch of ants on a small tile tottering and careening, murmuring, but they never bump each other, like New York City sidewalk traffic they manage to seamlessly weave themselves past and around each other muttering away and using their arms and legs robotically to balance themselves and that’s all they do, and they look brighteyed and confused and they all kind of look alike except for their colors, and then he went on . . .
there’s this sparrow and it’s amazing, I don’t know if it’s a male or female sparrow but whatever, it’s perched on this smooth thigh on the porch next door bobbing its head and pecking at thistle seeds or something, cracked hearts of sunflower seeds, who knows, and it’s making me dizzy with all its head movements between pecks, I try to imitate it and literally get disoriented, not as pleasant as good dope gets me but nonetheless, I’d sure like to be pecking at thistle seeds or whatever on that thigh . . .
Babies sparrows thighs, all this he tells me in the car on a twolane highway through the woods upnorth, I stop the car on the shoulder and in no time he feels the gnashing of my teeth, I’m all over him, what are you telling me this stuff for I yellat him, I don’t need to hear that shit, you’re hitchhiking at dawn I pick you up and you start laying this shit all over me, okay okay drive on he says I won’t talk about babies and birdies anymore, I’ll get out at M23 and you can forget about me.
I glare at him then move over and start driving again turn and glance at him for a moment, he’s staring straight ahead, I’ve wounded him but I don’t care, I hate these shorts I’m wearing they’re suddenly too short, I’d throw him out but I’ve been driving all fucking night and when I saw him I thought some company might be good, I’d take him a lot farther than M23 if I could, I’d take him all the way to northern Alberta with me, he’s nicelooking, harmless, I could put up with that, but the babies and birdie shit no way. It’s quiet for exactly one minute and then like a preset alarmclock he starts in again, he goes I was sitting on my porch reading I look up and there’s this hummingbird hovering over me just beyond reach, it’s just hovering and looking at me I can’t even see it’s wings moving, at one point it turns its head and studies something for about five seconds then returns to me for another twenty seconds before it zooms away and I’m mesmerized, it flies in wonderful broad loopy arcs through my backyard lighting up trees and bushes and the whitedotted blue sky with a neon glow . . .
Birdies again! I heave out this guttural snarl and pull over again thumping over a roadkill corpse, I almost lose control, Whoa he says, a car passes in the other direction my car fishtails and finally I get it to stop and flash my teeth my fangs at him I tear at his skinny throat, the whole fucking world’s falling apart it’s crashing it’s fucking blowing up and you’re sitting here blahblahblaahing about cutesy little fairyland birdie bullshit? get the fuck out of here now. He looks at me, he closes the gash on his neck with a gentle finger massage like hes mocking me, long skinny fingers and thumb sliding toward each other, separating, sliding again, I’m spitting all over him, I’ve had it with the vulnerablelittleboy routine and the cutesylittledruggiewonderlandfucking stories I scream, they’re all the same all you want to do is manipulate that’s all, that’s fucking all, now get out of here. He widens his eyes screws up his mouth opens the door and exits, he leaves the door for me to reach over and close, and by the time I take off he’s got his thumb out for the next pigeon.
I’m driving along still really pissed, the woods are streaming by, a car starts to pass and there he is in the passenger seat, he looks over at me. When I recognize him I speed up, there’s nothing coming toward us and there he is blahblahblaahing away, spewing his birdieandbaby shit at some other female sucker and I start screaming at her Don’t listen to that shit, don’t let him pollute your mind too so when the world starts breaking up you’ll just seep into its cracks like sludge, don’t let him do that, stay strong, he’s still looking at me and blabbing away and I slam on my brakes and I’m fishtailing all over the road and finally I come to a stop on the shoulder and scream. It doesn’t go away it doesn’t go away.
In case you want to read this story from the start, you’ll have to scroll down to see the 1st installment. Then scroll up to see the 2nd. That’s how this page works. More coming soon.
Sometimes stories just take me along with them. You follow along and get it done and then you sit back, think it over, and make the changes it calls for. It’s always an adventure.
Bambo walked the mile to his home after leaving that shaky place and stopping to buy a Mad magazine, and he sat on the roof of his parent’s detached garage and hung his head and pictured the awful marks pink and red and destined for deep purple and black that he’d left on Carla’s smooth Latin skin, felt her thrashing and heard her cries and yelps that, lost in delusion, he had thought were gasps and bawls of ecstasy, he shook his head and tears filled his eyes and he felt them drip onto his pantlegs and blearily saw them cascade down the shingles beneath him, and seen through his flooded eyes the roof flowed like a scummy stream and he wondered why she hadn’t stopped him, and he wondered where were the curses when he was hurting her. He lit a cigarette and wiped his runny nose and eyes on the short sleeve of his teeshirt and he lay back on the roof and swirled in his regret and shame, how do you make up for something like that he wondered.
When affairs and relations in his little world got too hard or complicated for Bambo, he would simply enter the threefoot space between his parents’s and his neighbor’s singlestall garages sidebyside on a shrublined alley, traverse a pile of stacked twobyfours and planks blackened and halfrotted with age, mindful of the rusty nailpoints protruding upthrough some of them which he never bothered to remove, nor did he bother to turn the boards over, and he would clamber up a picketfence connecting two back corners of the structures and hoist himself onto the roof. He smoked and read magazines up there and baked in the summer heat and pondered, sometimes he cried too, over nothing, though usually he fought off the impulse, he was mortified at the thought that any of his friends would happen by and see him, he knew that would be the end of it all. And that was the last thing he ever wanted. But that was the thing he was thinking about now on this garage roof wet with his cascading tears under the hot blue sky.
All around him lay neat small rectangular yards, all of them nicely mowed with bushes and shrubs welltended and some with gardens full of variegated perennials alongside border fences and narrow walkways from house to garage. Often Bambo thought of this modest neighborhood articulation as a gameboard awaiting the next move, awaiting a move by him, browneyed Ronnie Bammelaur, Bambo to his friends, some move that would unite him with it, and not only with it but with the fine folks who shaped and manicured those yards and painted their houses and garages and kept that gameboard ready for his move, he had lived almost his whole life among those colorful properties but knew the names of only a few of their caretakers, for some reason he preferred to live on the fringe, sit on the roof, satisfied to survey his domain at his leisure and live his real life elsewhere, in the alleys and the hovels of the Heights where he beat up Carly making love a mile away.
He knew the end was near now, it would be all over soon, maybe in a couple of weeks or a week, or maybe tomorrow, the end of this part of his life with these sordid friends of his, these other misfits and dropouts and criminals like Brutes and Pauly and Carly and the rest, and the younger ones like himself waiting to drop out and hang fulltime with their models, try some stuff harder than weed, maybe blow some coke like Brutes or even slam some smack like Pauly once in a while. Pictures of smoke and joints drifted through his mind, Pauly sitting on the floor dazed his arm muscles hanging all around, baseball on TV, himself and CrazyJorrie and the younger girls happy with their weed and beer, George Carlin on some stereo gravelly voice and background laughter, a few of the older ones wandering in and out of the room, tough guys wearing jeans and bare feet, some already in and out of jail two or three times, Bambo’s mind raced, I don’t want to go to jail, I don’t want to hurt anyone.
Yo. Bambo. CrazyJorrie’s voice. He sat up, wiped his eyes, pretended he was wiping away sleep, fuckin A he said. The sun had dried the roof the shingles were searinghot. He heard the clattering of old boards and muffled curses, saw CrazyJorrie spring up the picketfence and his long skinny fingers grip the roofedge, saw his greasy head pop over the eaves and a leg swing up and land on the roof, fuck that’s fucking hot he said. In a moment he was sitting beside Bambo and lighting a smoke, damn he said, was wondering where you were, been calling here and around and no one knows where you were. I been here Bambo said. I thought so, his cigarette between his lips he ran both hands through his black shoulderlength hair repeatedly, it glistened and stayed put. So you’re in trouble.
Yeah, I guess so. I’m always in trouble, one way or another. Yeah. CrazyJorrie picked up the Mad and thumbed through it, snickering at the drawing. I didn’t mean anything Bambo said, Jesus I reall didn’t mean anything. He sat like a yogi, straight and lotuslike but with his knuckles resting on the hot shingles, he felt them heave a bit then settle down to shivers. CrazyJorrie reached over him and flicked his halfsmoked butt down into the yard, his fingers fumbled in his shirtpocket for another and he lit it with a match.
Hey Bambo, you know next November’s my birthday. Dude, I’ll finally be sixteen and I’m quittin school that day, he held up his open palm and Bambo smacked it with his, and I’m on my way to fuckin Nevada the next. I thought you were waiting for me Bambo said. He flinched as CrazyJorrie’s long skinny nose swung on him, CrazyJorrie looked at him with a wide thinlipped grin, dark flashing eyes, Dude he said, I can’t wait till next whatsit, March, April, I can’t wait that long, he breathed in smoke, I can’t be sittin around with those gooks all lit up all the time planning their next mugging or breakin, shit no. But I’ll tell you what though, I’ll get my ass out to Nevada and get on a ranch and save a place for you in the bunkhouse so when you get there you’ll have a job too. And I’ll teach you how to ride horses.
Fuck man I thought you were going to wait for me. Bambo scootched down to the roofedge, dangled his legs, he looked down at the picketfence, scanned the slowlyrotting boards for nailpoints, he sat mesmerized, as though something he knew not what was happening inside himself, he heard CrazyJorrie’s voice, I’ll tell you what dude, you better be careful, I hear Pauly’s really pissed.
What if I slipped off here and landed with that picketfence between my legs Bambo thought. His eyes widened. In a flash his mind separated himself from the roof and in less than a blink he was astraddle the arrowlike stake he had aimed for and his body exploded in pain and his bellow flattened grasses and shook windowglass around the whole block and he knew he’d be safe from Pauly now by god. And Carly too. And Carly would be safe from him too. He sat there staring down, it could happen he thought, I could do it. Of course he’d die he knew. It would be a grisly ugly death, bloody as hell he thought. But maybe not as bloody as he’d be after Pauly was through with him.
But he deserved it, after what he did to Carly . . . Hey Jorrie he said, you think it’s true what they say Pauly did to that dude in the john? He turned to see CrazyJorrie’s face, CrazyJorrie winced. Yeah I do, yeah he did it allright, I saw his bloody shirt, yeah but that guy never saw it coming did he Bambo said, he couldn’t even fight back, wouldn’t’ve made a difference CrazyJorrie said. Damn that’s bad Bambo said, then like a balloon released from piched fingers into aimless flight he sprang up and ran back and forth up and down the middlingpitched roof and smacked CrazyJorrie upside the head proclaiming let him come, let him, if he beats the shit outa me that’s okay, what’ll he do, he’ll just beat the shit outa me, he won’t fuckin kill me and besides, I’ve had the shit kicked outa me plenty of times, he can’t do it any worse than my oldman can, he’s beat the shit outa me a thousand fuckin times and I’m not fuckin killed yet. He stopped and squatted beside CrazyJorrie who had been following his manic pacing lke a stoned spectator an errant housefly, but you know what Bambo said, I’d sure rather have Carly beat the shit outa me, I sure would. If Carly beat the shit outa me I wouldn’t even try to fight back.
Well I’ll tell you what CrazyJorrie said, Carly probably could beat the shit outa you, I’ve seen her in a fight, and if you knock me off the roof with your crazyass running around I’ll beat the shit outa you too Bambo. Yeah yeah, Bambo looked at his hands, his long dirty nails, besides, like I said, it couldn’t be any worse than my oldman. The sonofabitch.
CrazyJorrie studied the shingles between his legs, hey he said, it’s only about ten months till we can take off for Nevada. Bambo sat down offered CrazyJorrie a cigarette, lit it and then his own. Gazing at CrazyJorrie, I thought you were leaving early and I’d catch up to you he said. Yeah well, I can wait, it’ll give me time to get some money. Credit cards. He looked up squinting at the blue sky. Screw it, I can wait.
Bambo later walks along the sidewalks of his neighborhood where the people, when they’re home, are friendly and neighborly, past the Sterling homes and the Sears Roebuck & Co. homess all built in the 1920s and the petunias and pansies and all the stuff that’s the same from day to day and wonders what he’s going to do about Pauly. He could maybe hang around these all too familiar and comfortable suroundings and hang with the kids his age here and not go anywhere near the Heights for years and years, or at least until Pauly goes to prison for a long time. He paused and lit a cigarette and he felt the sidewalk tilt a bit and then rock as he continued his walk, a small evergreen nearby seemed to reach out to him and he ducked, they won’t come over here he thought, they won’t come to this place.
But they’ll find me in the park he thought, he felt his chest shake as he walked, his head rocked, or they’ll find me if I go anywhere near the Heights, or he’ll find me in the schoolyard, waiting for a bus, no matter where I go, that’s how Paulie is, and then he’ll beat the shit out of me. If I quit them first and they see me maybe they’ll kill me, Jesus, but if I go to the Heights and let him beat the shit out of me, he’ll just beat the shit out of me and let me live, and he’ll tell me to stay the fuck away from the rest of the brothers and sisters, and then it’ll be over.
He turned a corner and headed in the direction of the Heights a mile away. The air was a bluegreen haze with bits of violet lurking behind it. He wished he had some grass and he wondered if Carly would let him under the covers again if Pauly beat the shit out of him.
This next entry is probably the length of a typical short story. I’m going to print the whole thing but in a couple of installments. The main character is about 14 or 15, some of the others are a bit older. The kid’s a crossover — he lives in a respectable neighborhood but at times hangs out with with a pretty tough crowd.
The walls stopped shaking and the cracks stopped running up to the ceiling and the old plaster stopped flaking and the girl had hardly caught her breath before she was off the narrow bed and was making swishing and scrambling sounds. When she snapped the lightswitch and the boy recovered from his momentary blindness, he saw that her jeans were already on and she was pulling her sweatshirt over her head. Dark streaks where none had been before marked her cheeks when her face appeared and she tugged the shirt down. You better learn this ain’t supposed to be a hurting match Bambo she said. This ain’t a game of beat your snatch.
What? he said.
I said this ain’t supposed to hurt Bambo. What the fuck you think this is all about, huh? You think I’m a fuckin dog carcass or something that you need to train on to be the middleweight champion of the world? Her bronze face was a mishmash of hurt and terror and anger, nothing subtle.
Bambo didn’t know what to say. What? What? . . .
The girl rushed five barefoot steps to the bed, leaned down to his face. You think I’m a fuckin hassock with a hole in it that you can take your frustrations out on? Does it make you feel like a man to treat me that way? She straightened up and pounded the air with her fists, tears were falling and her full red lips contorted. Do you think it’ll make your dick bigger if you beat me up while you’re fucking me? What do you think?
What are you talking about he whined. What’s wrong with my dick?
She backed up, took a couple of steps to her left, half turned and swirled back. Nothin wrong with your dick Bambo. But it sure ain’t a man’s eight inches.
He propped himself on his elbow, an amazed look on his face. So? he said.
So? So? she mimicked. So do you think your dick will get four inches longer if you treat me like a a a fuckin pumpkin? She rushed to him again, tearing her arm out of her threadbare sweater, look at that she said, she thrust her arm at his face, twisted it around, he saw the marks, the faintly forming bruises, she didn’t leave it there long enough for him to count them, and look at this she said, she tore at her frayed belt, fumbled with the zipper of her jeans and let out a throaty cry when it resisted, there she said when her pants dropped to her knees, look at that. He saw purple on her upper thighs, she pointed at the largest and snuffled as she pulled down her beige panties, and look she said, her voice cracking on the word look, and she framed the spreading contusion covering her hipbone with her hands.
I did that he asked softly. Did I do that? He reached tentatively to touch it. With a sharp intake of breath she leaped away and redressed herself. Stay away from me Bambo she said. The other guys never treated me like this. They may be rough and they may be dumb, but they never hurt me. Never. Surveying the floor, she pumped her fists and cried where are my shoes, where the hell are my shoes? Oh she whimpered, she wheeled around and raced to the door, she unbolted it and pulled it violently open and ran out of the room and he heard her feet pounding on the way down the stairs. He heard voices down there, an occasional outburst of female anguish, male voices too. Did I do that he asked himself.
This was only his second stab at this game and Bambo was scared. The first time he had bungled and botched until he let Carly guide him, grateful as a puppy, and he knew he didn’t hurt her, and she praised him copiously while stroking his face and he had never known such a sensation could be had. He had looked at her smooth firm face, her amused and quite pleased eyes, smelled her earthy breath, her sweaty hair, and he wanted to languish there, weakly slip away, wake up to the next time. That was last week. Sweet Carly had smiled then, her approval of her initiate’s performance evident in her playful hazel eyes. It was a little too quick she had declared, but you felt good and you made me come and I liked the things you said. He had been pretty proud of himself, had told a few guys from his own neighborhood, was it really good they’d asked, a lot better than wanging off he’d answered.
He was still under the sheet, still propped on an elbow, dumbstruck and empty, when Brutes appeared in the doorway, strode to the bed. His name was Bruce, but no one dared call him Bruce, Brutes was more suitable, he towered over Bambo’s bedside smoothfaced and slick, sideburns down to his jaw. Bambo shook his head, widened his eyes, flashed to a recall of Brute’s clambering noise on the stairs and his approaching footfalls in his heavy thickheeled boots.
Maybe you’d better get going Bambo he said.
Shit, Then, really? He looked from Brutes to a framed photograph of an oldtime Jeep Wagoneer one of the gang had stolen, the only break in the dead pastiness of the wall behind Brutes. Yeah Brutes said, he gestured with his thumb, you better get your ass outa here before Pauly comes. He pulled deeply on a cigarette.
Pauly? What’s Pauly got to do with anything?
You don’t know? How come you don’t know? Pauly takes care of Carla. He don’t like to see her hurt.
But I didn’t mean to hurt her.
I didn’t mean to hurt her he repeated to himself. All he had wanted was to feel all this smooth pliant firmness, this fictile pulp, all he had wanted was to bore into it, sink into it, pecker tongue fingers and teeth, and when his fingers each with a mind of its own felt the inevitable resistance of bones the other side of flesh they squeezed all the harder, tried to mash those bones like squash, tried to constrict them like a sponge, he remembered it all now replayed it all, then he balled up those fingers and hands and tried to pound them into something, some new mass, some kind of inexplicable and indescribable form, some palpable manifestation of all the rage and grief and terror that sneered at him each morning upon waking and bellowed in his shallow sleep at night, pummeling and kneading, the riotous currents in his body surging and crackling like July thunder.
Pauly’s out of jail?
Been out for a week Brutes said, he looks bad as hell, only a stubble of hair on his whole head, you better get outa here man, she might call him, maybe already did, he offered a savvy nod and put the cigarette between his lips, turned and pounded away on the bare floor.