I guess I was 14 when I had my greatest epiphany about human nature. Sitting on the steps of a gas station across the street from my childhood home in west Baltimore, I spotted a man wearing a purple coat walking down the other side of Baker Street. He carried with him a sack of cans, tied around the beltloop of his left side. Now, as old as I was, I had never really seen a homeless person before. Never talked to one. Never even thought twice about what it meant to be without a place to go. So, it shocked even me when I ran across Baker to flag down the complete stranger.
“Hey!” I call after him, staring at the man walking away from behind for no more than 10 seconds, no less than 5. Upon closer inspection, the coat that I had thought of as merely purple, was actually more of a light indigo and judging from the delicate yellow stitching on the back wasn't a man's coat, but a woman’s. Meh, bum culture is more accepting of such things.
The man doesn’t move, his body language doesn’t even suggest he heard me calling to him. Either that, or he doesn’t have many people calling to him. He gimps down the sidewalk, edging nearer to the curb. His afflicted leg makes it easy for me to catch up. In a series of starts and stops, I wrestle with the urge to flag this guy down or just let him go on his way.
I try again, from only about 10 feet away this time, “Hey!” I can now make out that the stitching forms a bouquet of yellow flowers. Wilted from the wear and exposure to the elements a bum’s coat would typically undergo, but recognizable nonetheless. His hair, greasy and unkempt, sticks out from underneath a grey fedora. A regular Goodwill fashion model this guy is.
The man keeps walking. Same course. Same pace. Not even a flinch in my direction. What the hell is this guy’s problem? I’m fucking trying to reach out to this worthless piece of shit. I’ve never seen a goddamn bum in my life before and I just want to ask him something. I want to know what the hell happened to him. Was it alcohol? Was it dope? Was it just a series of bad decisions? What is it in life that I have to avoid to not end up walking down Baker Street and having nosey kids follow me from here to there? I want to know his name and for fuck’s sake I want to know why he’s wearing a lady’s coat.
Anger, the kind that comes from being ignored, starts to resonate through my body. It wells up from my feet and shoots out the top of my head. My face red, I extend my fingers to pick up a small marble chunk lying on the surface of the sidewalk. I rear back and throw. It hits the man square in the back of his head, knocking the grey fedora to the ground. Surely he would turn around now, I would promptly scold him for ignoring me earlier, and finally some sort of acknowledgement and resolution to the whole scenario would come about.
Nothing. The man continues to walk. I come to the fedora on the ground and snatch it from the curb. Dusting it off, more out of habit, than of anything else, I place it on my head.
I pick up another rock. A bigger one this time. I don’t throw it right away, taking time to study its jagged edges and tiny black pores. This rock is going to hurt. Not like the other rock, that was more of a warning rock. This rock, this rock could kill the poor bastard. No one blows me off though. I wouldn’t let my best friend get away with it, so why would I let some street person show me up.
The rock leaves my hand and heads straight for the eye of one of the yellow flowers on the back of the man’s coat…er, lady’s coat. It tears a small hole extending from the pistil to the tip of one of the petals. Sensing the imperfection, but not acknowledging the source, the man sheds the purple coat with yellow flowers. It falls to the sidewalk and my eyes shift to it and only it. I stare at the torn flower for a good 10 seconds before looking back to find the man, only he’s no longer there. His cans lay about fifteen yards in front of me.
The streetlights buzzing tell me it's dusk and time for me to get home before mom starts to worry. I grab the coat, slide my arms through its armholes, and retrieve the sack of cans. Fashioning a knot in the garbage bag, I tie it to my beltloop. I start walking and from behind hear, “Hey!”
His fingers were like sandpaper icicles on her chest. Two of the snaps on the western shirt her aunt gave her for her seventh birthday were torn off. Breathing will never be this difficult again except in fits of passion. Flashbacks aren’t only experienced by war vets.
She will never get married.
The entire room was dark except for the disgusting moonlight resting on her face and torso. She hated that window. Heavy breaths whistled out of a nostril and brushed against her temple after going through a filter of whiskers.
Imagine that sound penetrating each one of your senses. Taste those breaths because they will resonate mildew in your mouth for the next twenty years until memories simply turn
into defense mechanisms and you are subjugated again.
She accidentally knocked Furball, her stuffed seal, off of her bed and wanted to apologize, but language was now a foreign concept. The only things she knew were those icicles and that whistle. She will loathe every boy who tries to love her. She will break their hearts and they will secretly hate her.
She really did love you, she just couldn’t tell.
Every boy will tell her that she is beautiful and she will hate them for doing so.
They meant it doll, I promise.
In college she will flat line from taking too many oxycontins. It won’t be a cry for help, it genuinely won’t. Her boyfriend of the time will wake up to her foaming at the mouth and rush her to the hospital.
He will be forced to drop two classes and beg for one “withdraw-passing” in his final semester of med school because he will spend every waking hour at the hospital. Combine that with the problem he had as a freshman of treating hang-overs as opposed to going to class, and he will loose his scholarship and won’t have the money to reapply but he won’t care. His mother will disown him at dinner in front of her side of the family (the only one he associates with) and militarily claim that he shat upon his education for a whore. He will never associate with “her side” again.
She will wake up to sandpaper icicles clenching her hand, but his fingers and compassion can never just be fingers and compassion. She will break up with him a week later. He will end up hanging from the famous campus bridge wearing the suit his grandmother got him for graduation and with the engagement ring he hadn’t given her yet strapped to his hand. She will wear it on her right ring finger for the rest of her life.
In another life she would have married you and been the best wife you could have hoped for. She would have learned your favorite meal and prepared it better than your favorite restaurant, even though she hates to cook and works fifty hours a week. Some days you would come home from work to her laying in bed, waiting for you with a new piece of lingerie she bought with the money she got from piano lessons.
She would tell you she loved you.
She felt bad that Furball had to watch. She never slept with him again.
Her Wal-Mart Levi’s were her only source of protection and those were failing. Icicles have never been so frigid and neither had she. By the time she turns thirty she will have slept with eighty-nine men.
None of them meant a thing.
She will die at thirty-six succeeding where she failed in college. At her funeral the icicles will scrape her one last time as her father cries at her open casket. Even deceased they always find her.
She would have been the best wife you could have hoped for.
The first time I ever saw this little burst of short-lived euphoria I noticed that she had her daddy’s eyes. You could never quite tell what was on her mind or what it is she was truly feeling—he was no different. She used to cry for hours in the middle of the night awaiting the arrival of her [a]pathetic mother knowing that a pat on the back and a changing of the diaper was not what she was looking for. Miss Love never looked beyond those fragile eyes and took for granted everything she had. She had a husband, she had a daughter, and rumors have surfaced that she even had love.
This little girl is an heiress to a grunge dynasty. Never could she or anyone else for that matter have foreseen her ascension to the throne coming so soon, perhaps too soon. Miss Love was taken by surprise and couldn’t remember how to handle such a delicate situation. In a sense, she forgot she was a mother and she had somehow misplaced her baby girl in the deep end of her head—the part no longer attached to her body I suspect.
His only fault was he just had too much black bile in his system. Miss Love wouldn’t help him get it out. He used to retreat to pencils and musical notes and gritty sounds and guitar picks and sinister diction. I once read an article in which this journalist referred to the man as “introverted.” He made it seem as such an affirmative statement, as if it was enough. You can’t sum up a person in one word if that same person can’t sit down and do the same. It’s much more complicated than that.
Complication is what made and makes this dark angel’s life difficult—even that doesn’t do her situation justice, big surprise. She has her moments and then the world reminds her that there will always be “Something in the Way.” “Of what?” is what most ask themselves, but I can’t answer that. It’s whatever she wants. She wants a family; her family, and still she can’t have that.
But what is the cause that leads to the why? It started back in 1994. Daddy used to mourn a loss before his life was lost. On the surface he played house with Miss Love and had the “and baby makes three” bit for awhile. Close friends thought it was enough. Those who take dissect and analyze thought it was enough.
“It’s really enough this time,” escaped from the minds and mouths of every fan who thought they knew him like no one else knew him.
Maybe they do, maybe they didn’t. He used to throw her in the air and smile. Now she’s thrown into the world with no guidance or protection or help or anyone to catch her. There is a void, an unfilled space, a black hole eating away at her heart. I don’t know for sure, but experts on pain think that what hurts the most is she never got to say good-bye. He made his peace with the world and left.
Left her to disintegrate in 2006 into the sheets of a decrepit “mother’s” bed. No one ever sleeps there, but stays up late to watch television and to wonder what life could or should or would be like if daddy slipped under the comforter to join them—the sweet escape. She gave her daughter life, but she took her husband’s life away. The cycle continues which is clear when you backtrack to 2003. Lost custody, lost family, and any chance at normalcy that she had ever thought could be possible. Miss Love’s actions jeopardize[d] her future. In her eyes you can tell that she is trying so hard not to follow in their footsteps. She almost found a Happy Medium and repressed daddy’s words, but not daddy’s voice.
Daddy’s voice drove mommy to tears and to crazy by the horror of living up to expectations.
“But can you blame your own mother for your own problems when you are well aware that you are not the only one in this house with their own problems to deal with and can you hope to find answers in old clothes and records meant to be heard by everyone but you because they were for her and not for you but they are you?” she constantly wonders.
One can only hope she’s not too confused. We still want her opinion on everything having to do with daddy. We want emotion—yes tears.
Miss Love would love to tell her the truth, but it’s too bad daddy never told her. A letter solves nothing and she is coming to learn this.
“How many times can you read a sentence until you realize that you’re a damn fool and that a sentence is just a sentence and most of the time it stands alone meaningless?”
I suppose forever she’ll have questions. And maybe someday someone somewhere will have an answer. Meanwhile, we’ll prevent ourselves from looking past those eyes and continue the pattern of a put off or a change of subject.
Miss Love understands that she’s discovering some things that may not make much sense to her now and may never. But she needs to feel like she still matters—like she still exists I guess—and she still wants to be famous. While she’s away lying and recording, this pop child is learning and accepting. She’s a young lady now and I still can’t get past those eyes. One can only hope that she will be free to make up her own mind about her past, present, and future—someday one day.
Paralyzed Or How I Got Caught In the Machine of Death
My mother called me while I was at work, so I ran into the men’s restroom to talk to her. I locked the door behind me and went into a stall.
“Hey mom.” I spoke very quietly.
“Hey mom.” I didn’t change my volume one bit; I knew she fucking heard me just fine.
“That’s better. I have some terrible news for you.”
That could be anything. I don’t exactly get along with the woman who birthed me and she makes these calls every now and then full of “terrible news”. Usually it means a neighbor made too much noise at 3 o’clock in the afternoon or something.
“Your father died.” I could hear the water running in the woman’s restroom through the wall. I also noticed that some spaghetti sauce from my lunch an hour ago had taken up residence on my work pants. My coworkers had not informed me of this.
“Excuse me?” I asked her while putting warm water to the stain.
“Your father died. William is dead.” William is not my father. He is just some man my mom married a year ago.
“I’m hanging up now. I have to go back to my job. Goodbye mom.” My friend tells his mom that he loves her every time before they get off the phone. It’s not that I don’t love my mother; it just feels awkward putting it verbally. I guess I should feel guilty though, because I should’ve said it this time. Her husband just passed. But I don’t feel an ounce of love or guilt honestly.
I unlocked the bathroom and exited. On the way back to my desk, some of my co-workers laughed at my wet paints, jokingly implying that I had pissed myself. I hate this fucking job.
* * * * * * *
One time I closed my eyes and my brain showed me a movie: I was at a diner with a baby that wouldn’t stop crying. It ate at me and enraged me. My veins were visibly showing through my hands, my fingers ripping at an already tattered napkin. Some kind gentlemen came over and grabbed the baby. I think he meant to do something awful to it, but I was too afraid to look. I stared at a clock so hard it became water and splashed all over the floor. A busboy cursed at me and went to grab a mop. The baby stopped crying but I had no idea where it went. The man had sat back down with his family and attended to his pancakes. He was sweating. I was sweating.
I opened my eyes. I don’t think I blinked for the rest of the night.
* * * * * * *
Work had completed itself and I raced to get home. It’s not like I had something to do or someone to do it with, but I just needed to wash the stench of responsibility off my skin. The water in the shower didn’t seem hot enough despite the amount of steam and the fact that it turned my skin bright red.
The space felt like a burial plot with liquid leaves and oxygen dirt falling on top of my living corpse. Someday I will sleep and not wake up. I may be aware of it before it happens; I may not be aware of it before it happens. It will happen. It is happening.
I dried myself off and went straight to bed. It was the winter season and I was naked on my mattress. I was shivering yet I was too numb to clothe.
I am going to die. William died. He didn’t expect it and he couldn’t stop it and now he is dead. I don’t feel anything about it. The only feelings I have are selfish ones.
Why can’t I know what will happen? It’s so fucking cruel. What if someone just turns off my lights and my book is closed forever? Not even I will remember the seconds that made up my life. What a waste. A cruel waste.
To take my mind off the inevitability of death, I took out a single piece of copy paper and a pen an old lover left behind. I placed my fingerprints on top of hers and began to draw. At first I drew an almost straight line diagonally down the paper but then I took out my right hand and laid it flat. As I traced it, my heart pounded like it was an engine to a faulty automobile. My left hand shook and the end result was really rather terrible. I crumpled it up, threw it at the wall with the rubbish bin and missed. I opted not to try again and to stare at my wall.
I couldn’t fall asleep and I skipped work. Rats.
* * * * * * *
There was a map I drew to the park when I first moved here. I didn’t know the city well but I had found something I didn’t want to lose, so I memorized my way home and put together the map so I couldn’t forget. Living here for 3 years, I’ve figured out how to get there now, but for some reason today I wanted to follow it. So I pretended to forget the route and followed my crude drawing to the land plot of trees, grass, birds and water fountains.
There is a tall oak tree, wise beyond his years that stands off to the side of the park. We speak every now and then when I need to vent.
“Hello old friend”. Hello! It’s so nice to see you! Oh, I have missed you so! You look a bit down my friend. Tell me, what is it that troubles you?
“Well, my step father has passed. I could care less about the man, in fact he was a bit of an asshole, but it’s really got me going selfish. I’m going to die. I don’t know what’s going to happen afterward and I’m fairly positive I’ll leave no impact behind other than a shell of a body which will soon conform with the earth shortly after.” Hmm, that sure is quite the pickle.
Did you know that I am dead? “No I did not. When did that happen?”
Oh many years ago. I was a bit afraid myself, but I was greener then. I aged and went off to a better place I hope. I really don’t know. But what I do know is that I am a monument of that life. I didn’t do anything special but I stand here, as a tribute to what I once was. I have lived as something completely different for so long, it’s become a life of it’s own. And it’s so very rare that you can start over. Doesn’t that excite you a little bit?
“I suppose it does, yes.” Good. So as much as it pains me to suggest you end the conversation, you should go for a little walk and get lost in your thoughts. Sleep, and begin tomorrow anew. Enjoy your surroundings. Let lose a bit.
“Thank you my friend. Oh, I love you so! You always know what to say!” I love you too friend. Tell the afternoon I said ‘hello’.
I hugged the oak goodbye and set foot to start again. I could almost feel a skip in my step. Along my exit from the park, I saw something bright and delicate. It was a lovely flower. What a good sign!
Okay here's a story about my pink fanny pack, which essentially is the distinguishing Drew Danburry factor. If you aren't sure it's me, just check for the fanny pack, right?
So one day me and my friend Rad wanted to go swimming, if anyone has ever been in Utah in the summertime, there isn't much else worth doing it gets so hot and dry during the summers. And on this particular hot summer day (of 2005) Rad and I decided to do just that. Go swimming. So instead of driving we decided to conserve gas because if anyone was around at the time they would remember that gas prices were at the highest they've ever been and so we decided to save gas and ride our bikes to a pool across town, a lot of the pools get monitored by BYU housing enforcement individuals (who usually work at the particular complex and find it necessary to enforce BYU clothing guidelines during the summer months) who usually get one look at us with our short non-knee length swim trunks (unless we're in the mood for Speedos of course) and tell us to leave and in some cases threaten to call the cops and become very angry with us for being there at all when we don't live there in the apartment complex and it's trespassing or whatever. Why argue and push that stick deeper up their rear you know?
I’m a non-confrontational person in some regard so we wanted to just avoid the confrontation in the first place and go swimming on the other side of town. But like I said we weren't gonna drive there so we decided to take bikes, and in order to conserve energy and so we could carry on an uninterrupted conversation we decided to take the same bike, a tandem bicycle, where if you are unfamiliar with tandem bicycles have two seats and two sets of pedals and one frame so that the two riders may ride together and pedal together and celebrate the labors of modern technology together in uniformed exercise.
It wasn't till the moment when we hopped on the bike together and began our ride towards the swimming pool when we realized what we were getting ourselves into. Living in Provo, UT where the population is predominantly made of conservative Mormons or their socially narrow minded counterparts a lot of people fall into the trap of believing that there are only a few ways to live life without being a weirdo worshipping Satan and so obviously two guys with short swimming trunks riding topless on a tandem bike fall into the socially unacceptable category.
As a side note, of important interest, it will be duly noted that I ALWAYS wear a hot pink fanny pack and have for years now around my waist as a sign of my contempt for such narrow mindedness and in a sense to alienate anyone who has preconceived notions as to how a man should behave and dress and be like in order for them to be a respected individual within our societal structure. I tend to throw all of that out the window by nature, but the fanny pack reigns first and foremost in that attack on such notions and is an outright attempt to throw out the normal in everyone's everyday life so that they don't get too comfortable, heaven forbid.
So as we embarked on our bike ride to the pool, these two boys on the tandem bicycle, the cat calls and jeers only bringing all the more smiles to our faces, the whistling and horns a-honking only bringing waves of salutations from our hands bearing the lovely unspoken words of "hello" and "good day" to those we felt we were bringing a special bright spot to in their dreary everyday kind of day. But after about a fifteen minute ride we arrived at our designated pool only to find it more crowded than we had ever seen, and never ones to duck out of an especially good entrance we decided to open the gate and ride the bike right on into the pool area across the deck and over into the corner where it was shaded by a lovely sycamore tree.
The gate swung open and as is normal everyone looked to see who it was, but as their eyes rested on our bodies they didn't stop looking, all the activity in the pool came to a complete stop as we made our entrance, the talking died and activity aside from a particularly cute girl who let out a low little whistle as we rode past her as she and her friend bathed in the sun's light and a group of guys who began guffawing in the corner; aside from all that. Dead silence. Not one word was spoken.
We parked the bike as the noise level around us steadily increased, a few of the guys in the corner's guffaws grew to a slow rumble and there was a buzz of commotion around us as whispers and giggles and chortling and the tickling of ears became more and more audible. We took the towels draped around our necks and placed them over the bike and I unslung the fanny pack from my waist and hung it over the handlebars. Pretending not to notice the increasing excitement around us we nonchalantly walked towards the pool's edge when it happened. The group of boys that had been somewhat quietly guffawing grew brave by their numbers and one of them piped up for all on the pool deck to hear. With a chuckled contempt only someone really "cool" could have the authority to deliver and dripping with the sarcasm that only an individual raised with the confidence of always being right and/or proving himself right by the brute force he apparently was capable of with his rippling muscles he so well displayed at the pool's edge he stridently but subtly stated,
"Uh...I like your pink fanny pack."
Now, this put me into a very unique position and as our sociology would have it, it would seem that this individual was calling me out, challenging me on the premise of my confidence in wearing a pink fanny pack, probably bringing to question my sexual orientation and generally issuing forth a challenge for having taken the attention that he more than likely felt was deservedly his, or rather for his muscles. And me being the scrawny lanky guy I am, I looked like easy pickings. But this is where clever wit and words can overcome brawn and strength in any situation and despite my love for words I have never been a good performer under pressure, to be honest I’ve always been the guy who gets humiliated and then an hour later realizes what I should've said while I'm walking home later. And as I continually replay the events of the moment inserting the right words and that I should have said I prepare myself for the next time...but this time was different and for once in my life without thinking the words flowed forth and I will claim absolutely no responsibility for their cleverness or for their quick delivery, the only reason I would even tell this story is not for my own self-glorification but for the fact that I think this is a good story and I feel that it should be told.
So as I approached the edge of the water and all eyes were seemingly on myself and my friend, this boy piped up quite confidently with the stridently sarcastic (as I explained earlier) comment:
"Uh...I like your pink fanny pack."
To which I surprisingly self-possessed, immediately replied:
"I like your six pack."
And then I dove into the pool and not one more word was spoken between us or directed to the other the rest of the afternoon. Or forever for that matter...now isn't that a happy ending?
I’m awake. There’s an angel next to me. She’s hanging in the middle of my room. She has a meat hook through her stomach. Her wings are bloody and brown. Her eyes are the ocean.
I sit up. I open the top draw on my night stand. I reach in and pull out a gun. It’s black like oil and cold as hell. I put it in my mouth. The angel shakes. I suck the barrel off for a second and pull the trigger and blow half my fuckin’ head against the piss yellow wall. I’m dizzy. Dizzy…dizzy…dizzy. I reach for a cigarette. I light it and stand up. My knees buckle. I inhale and watch in the mirror as the smoke funnels up and out of the back of my broken skull. I throw on a pair of jeans and my denim coat. I put my cigarette out on the angel’s chest. She drools blood onto my hand.
I walk along the street, kind of playing a beat in my head. Bip-bop-bidip-badip-badip-badip. My back is soaked from blood and brain and my mouth is filled with gooey, white chalk that used to be my teeth and like always, I don’t feel anything.
I stop in front of a storefront, a ten foot wall of mirrored glass. I try to see my blown out skull from behind. I’m craning my neck but all I see is the tattoo on the side of my shaved head. It’s one a.m.. A dog is barking. I pick up a garbage can and throw it through the window. The glass is a waterfall, crashing and exploding onto a cement river. I pick up a piece of the broken window. I let it skip along my wrist once, then again, and on the third time I dig in and slice myself from my hand to my elbow. It stings, I think. Blood blows out everywhere.
A few shards still hang inside the pane. I put my other arm up, roll my sleeve up to my bicep and dig the glass into my elbow pit. I yank my arm down and let the glass ride. It cuts through my forearm, and hand, and out from between my middle and ring fingers. I shiver and I think I just came in my pants. I reach for my pack of cigarettes. They fall to the ground and a couple loose smokes roll towards the street, trying to escape. I kneel down and pick one up in my mouth. I light it.
It’s ladies night so I go in. I order a bottle of vodka. An ex-girlfriend walks up. She says I look great. We hug and my blood is all over her. She asks what I’ve been up to. I try to say nothing much, but I throw up on her shirt before I can get the words out. She says we should get together sometime. I pour the vodka all over me and say that sounds cool but really I’m not interested, that I’m not really looking for a relationship right now. She hugs me again and back peddles away smiling. She tells me again how good I look. I light a match and light myself on fire. She waves and I walk out.
I’m still on fire and I walk into an all-night convenience store. I buy four bottles of aspirin and a gallon of anti-freeze. I open the aspirin and swallow every pill in each bottle in succession and wash them down with green poison. I walk back out and it starts to rain, hard. Smoke climbs up into the sky as the rain is putting me out. My skin is peeling, melting, off. I can see my heart pumping strong under my rib cage.
I walk into an abandoned building. There’s music, loud music. I follow it. Someone is hanging in front of me, hanging from a noose that’s wrapped around their neck, that’s wrapped around a piece of pipe jutting out twenty feet above. It’s a girl. Her face is pale white and her eyes, sunken. She says hi over the screaming stereo and I say hi back. On her neck, just above the noose, just above the noose that turning her throat into blood, she has the same tattoo that I have on my head.
I ask what she’s doing later. She says she doesn’t know. I ask if she wants me to get her down. She shrugs her shoulders. I push the chair back under her feet.
Out on the street everybody is the same as us. Young, alone, and dying to die.
We walk for a mile or a year and we’re not really talking. We’re both looking at each other, and I’m thinking how ugly she is and she’s probably thinking the same about me. She reaches down and holds my right hand in her left. My blood spurts onto her hand and sleeve.
We walk onto the train tracks. We face each other as the light and the noise from the 1:36 bear down on us. She pulls me close. Twenty tons of screaming metal is tearing through brisk, October air. I can feel the ground shaking. We’re facing each other. The horn sounds and blows out our eardrums. Blood drips out of the holes where my ears used to be, before they burned off. Everything is silent as the light swallows us. She leans in and kisses me on my mouth and then so does the train…
All Rights Reserved
Michael Sonbert 2006
Michael Sonbert is a New York born author. His first novel, The Never Enders, will be available in April 2007.www.michaelsonbert.com
Inspired Lyrics for Shall We Skip To Excessive Celebration? (Release Date: February 20th on Alarmor Records) by Autonym
John projected himself as one of courage and valor while also being one who remained humble and approachable. His tall, not too tall, broad, not too broad, stature indeed helped project such an image. His wavy brown hair, neither too long nor too short, and his hazel eyes, shifting between brown and green, seemed to let strangers know that he was indeed the common man. His personality reflected his normality, but from him a bright shine always seemed to emanate. The people of John’s town knew he would one day go far, far away from them and they would hear greatly exaggerated tales of John and his single-handed victories over great battalions of barbaric, merciless animals wearing men’s skin. John had gained such a reputation quickly as his Father Obsipitus was a hero of many wars, never the general, always the soldier. You see, leaders may have gained land and respect among fellow world leaders through victory, but the hearts and minds of the people were reserved for the common men who knew only of living and helping friends live, while defeating the enemy. John remembered being quite intimidated by a name so grandiose and, quite frankly, pretentious, as Obsipitus. However, Obsipitus raised his son to always be humble, to be the common man with a loving wife and family, to treat the left foot as you would the right. However, Obsipitus also taught his son that whosoever he encountered in the perils of war, John was no longer the common man; he was the soldier who became for an instant a fire breathing dragon whose thirst to defend the nest could never be satisfied. Then, you return to being a man, for a dragon cannot live and prosper in the world of men. Such fables were uncommon in such modern times and perhaps this shaped the way in which John felt differently from his people who loved him so.
The cries for battle against foes near and far echoed, as ever-changing rulers with the poor quality of life remaining stagnant. The leader, disguised as a soldier, rallied troops atop his tower declaring each invasion a blessing, an opportunity to set precedence of right versus wrong. Of course, the victors shall always write the history books and, thus, join the saintly heroes of old. John knew all of this. His intuition told him that in a world overrun by coups and constantly warring countries, the ideas of good and evil resided only within individuals who loved and cared as best they could. The leader spoke of peace through war, but John likened such ideals as forming water from fire. Still, John pressed on as the soldier, remembering his Father’s words, always wishing to become the dragon. Through many battles, John drew the blood of enemies not so different from his fellow warriors. He also watched his fellow warriors fall at his feet, life failing them as the blood drained, each wound always slightly different but often just as fatal. The deceased were left looking so cold and alone, staring off into the distance. Battle became one large parade of courage, as either side firmly believed in duty to one’s country, although John became increasingly apathetic towards this duty as he watched leaders rise and fall in his land. In these now commonplace coups, John became one of the few soldiers to live through so many battles on the frontlines, refusing to move to the higher ranks out of harms way, as a tribute to his courageous Father, who saw little value in being the chess player. John’s Father wished always to be the pawn, standing proudly alongside the other pawns, challenging the larger knights and rooks, who would attempt invasion of the first line of defense. John always appreciated this aspect of his Father’s character, not only because the idea was so uncommon in days where men became machines starving for the next big thing. His Father stood taller than any man when John was a boy and it was John and few others who knew the real reason behind this appearance. John’s Father never ran and never left a battle. His conscious, for the most part, was clean.
Most men that avoided battle often cited family as a concern for leaving the ranks of their fellow pawns. This facet hindered John less than the others. John married his wife young and they were so in love and remained as such. Mary, John’s wife, failed however to mention to John prior to their marriage that she could have no children due to the fact that Mary had been one of the many to suffer from radioactivity during one of the nuclear exchanges in recent times. Mary had mutations that kept her from conceiving. When John was told, he certainly was initially devastated, concerned his legacy would falter and fracture with his own body. However, John was grew increasingly resigned to and almost content with the situation. The speed with which he found this peace with a wife others called barren surprised the people around John and even John himself. The family always seemed to be important to him but now that he knew he could not have one with his wife, whom he loved but had knowingly deceived him, he felt a sense of relief. John came to realize that this sense of relief came not from the fact that the mystery as to why Mary had not yet become pregnant had finally been revealed, but in fact he felt as if the weight of bringing children into the world and somehow forming them into moral people in a society so lost was off his shoulders. Mary, however, carried the sadness of her inability to conceive with her and, as the years grew on and she watched her friends have children of their own, Mary became increasingly lost within herself. Minds that cannot find the answer shall never end the search, no matter how fruitless the effort may be. Finding solace in loneliness became her forte and John drifted in the distance of her mind. However, he became one of the few things, though in the distance, to remain in her mind and keep her connected to reality. Her despondency blamed many things, but never chance. She blamed the wars, her parents, human beings, but most of all, herself. Mary always convinced herself long ago the inadequacies inherent in her mutation defined her very being and solely she created this definition. She created this definition, unholy and unsatisfying.
The time was 12:03 am. The phone rang and woke two turtle doves. Once soundly lying, they now flew from their nest to the highest perch of John’s roof . John knew what a call at this time meant. Phone calls had not been allowed after 11 pm for years now with one exception. A call rang John to arms. John answered the call and walked down the cold steps of his modest home to get a drink of water from the refrigerator. Such a call used to mean a time to silence the strays from the herd. Now the calls John received still signaled a time to silence strays but he needed no longer be the same as the sheep he killed. Forever now, the witness, John guarded the wall as an Autonym, the guards of the Gate.
Mary walked down the stairs and embraces her husband from behind. Her long blonde hair fell down at his sides. She held him, trying so hard to disconnect herself from her own guilt. She pressed her face squarely against his back as he pressed her hand against his chest. The sound of ringing echoed throughout the house while they held each other in the dark. John then left the embrace and answered the phone by simply pressing the receiver to his ear and awaiting the prerecorded message. As expected, the voice, calm and steady, assigned John to his location and duration of duty. John walked back up the stairs, lighting up the halls and rooms as he walked. John did not have to leave until morning but he knew that neither he nor Mary would be able to sleep again tonight. John entered his bedroom and sat on the edge, holding his head in his hands, looking toward the floor. John took one hand and clasped the ankle bracelet the Head Counsel insisted new Autonyms wear in order to track their movements until trust is established, or so went the logic.
War still governed John’s actions, even if he may no longer be directly involved with the conflicts. Once again, a war had broken out between two small countries and allies and allegiances made such a war anything but small. Thus, an increase in Autonyms at the Gate was required in order to keep deserters from crossing over to the other side. Autonyms were ordered to question and then kill deserters. John always wondered the purpose of the questioning if deserters were to be killed anyway. The only proper explanation John could gather was that it must be some sort of method to make the people feel as though they had received some sort of trial, be it flawed, before they were killed.
Mary came to the bed and held John’s head to her chest. John was a broken man after years of war, broken and lost. Mary had never loved John more than this very moment. Mary now felt a connection through isolation to John. However, Mary’s love did not provide her with solace in her own existence. Mary did not hold unto herself a sense of personal purpose. She often attempted to be the support of John, trying to bear the cross John seemed to carry. However, this often resulted in more breakdowns personally for Mary as she tried to carry her own cross while carrying John’s cross with the other shoulder. The crosses weighted far too heavy a burden and Mary fell all too often. The emptiness inside her echoed far too loudly and she would often scream aloud, attempting to drown out the sound of her own ghosts, never leaving her alone to think for just one second.
John felt Mary’s squeeze tighten and every haunting feeling washed over him once again. John wondered how he came to such a place in which simply existing seemed so futile when only a few years earlier, life seemed so bright.
“Come inside, John! At least, put on a jacket if you’re going to stand out there all night.”
John’s small house was quite an achievement at his young age. He stood in his yard and took in every cold breath as he watched the clear, white moonlight shimmer off the wooden two-person swing, hanging above their front porch. The yard was small but it was more than enough for the two of them. Sadness relinquished its crown when the silence and peace of nature settled over John. John had not felt peace such as this since childhood. The night air blew and with it came a noise, distant but in his presence, in his home.
John had earned such a night with many more to pay his debt in full. The warring never seemed to end and the promises of reward often felt empty but John had begun to believe for a short while that perhaps all the death he had seen was for some purpose. John kept his wife Mary through years of war. As a soldier, he respected the loyalty reciprocated from her. At the young age of 16, John enlisted, much to the chagrin of his Father, as an Autonym. The years wore on and John had but a single friend through it all: Mary. On a short trip home, he had finally gathered the courage up to ask her hand in marriage on his 18th birthday. The letters they exchanged were so passionate, as it is often easier to spill your inner fears and dreams when put to ink. The two fell in love thousands of miles apart: one to the sound of silence in the setting of boredom, the other to the sound of screaming in the setting of the end of the world.
Six long years had passed now and John had been in and out of war all the while, never spending more than a month at home. Men around him died defending the homeland from the greed of other powerful leaders. However, after six years of defense against invaders, the attempts to invade decreased and morale among the defenders grew, especially those who fought to see an end to the seemingly never-ending war. John had now reached what many thought was the end. John knew this was far from the truth. The same Leader that had led them so heroically through the difficult times would lead them right back into hell. Ironically, this would be for the same reasons the Leader served as such a valiant hero in defense of the State. The leader already had begun spitting his euphoria-inducing diatribes to the masses, telling them, “Defense has led to the wars with Tiertopia and Valion! The wars with Millacal and Vernon: products of isolationism!” The Leader proposed a counter-strike and this break that John so richly deserved was simply the calm before the storm. John knew that factories far and wide in the State was churning deep into the night building fantastic new bombs, no longer to be used just outside the border of the State against invaders. “All invaders driven out have now lost their right to exist! It is the State who will exact this punishment at the behest of justice!” *Cheers* RADIO DEAD.
“If I sell 4 grams for this guy, I get the 5th free”, the girl says. Her eyes, lumps of coal, staring at me somewhat boastful from beyond her Swiss Mocha. Without much thought or having little experience in responding to such conversation, I give her a complimentary “Good”.
This year, well, this year has been a bad year. She takes another drink before picking at her skin. Black, acrylic nails dancing on the surface of her arm. I’ve been watching her thumb anxiously at her phone for the last hour, rifling through all of her contacts. Hannah hasn’t slept in 32 hours. She works two jobs. The first of which is at a grocery store adjacent to the elementary school I teach at.
A tall, shaggy-haired boy sits down on the couch next to us. The lanky boy’s wearing a Rilo Kiley t-shirt. At least he has good taste. Neither of us know him, but that doesn’t stop him from itching to be part of our world. He can’t be more than 19. He presents his freshly pierced eyebrow before departing the shop, scarf wrapped tightly around his lengthy neck.
Within minutes of the vacancy on the couch, a familiar face to Hannah fills the void left by the shaggy-haired kid. He looks to be about 30. His tattooed body and shaved head are an attempt to hide that fact. The kind of masochist that stops his piss midstream. He pokes at her. In an uncomfortable sort of way, she accepts it. He won’t leave, until finally he does. Disappearing to a corner of the room.
Lumps of coal back on me, I ask her to recite that David Lerner poem again. It’s not everyday that one has the opportunity to kiss a drug dealer.
Anton Chekhov, arguably the greatest short story writer in the history of the world. It was when I read The Lady with the Dog in 10th grade that I knew I wanted to write. Chekhov's understanding of the relationship between men and women in that story spoke to me. He knew love and circumstance, how they complicate each other. It never mattered if 10 people read it or 10 million people, I only wanted to write for the possibility of making someone experience the same kinship I felt with Chekhov's Gurov character.
It wasn't too long after reading that story that I discovered a band from Eudora, Kansas called The Get Up Kids. They too, had a profound understanding of men and women. Their music gave me the same kind of feeling that Chekhov's stories had. I got to college and it wasn't a strange sight for me to be holed up in the corner of the campus library, listening to Four Minute Mile and reading a story such as The Bear. The two helped me to appreciate each other in a deeper way and both were a gift in times when I wasn't so sure of my place in the world.
Absolute Ink was started with the intent of bringing the community of Absolutepunk.net the bond that I felt between music and literature. Here you will read stories that should be assumed fictional unless otherwise noted, but contain universal truths and realities that anyone can relate to. My goal is for this to be a creative outlet for me, for you, for us. I envision guest writers from signed and unsigned bands to contribute. I want you, the Ap.net user, to submit your work. A great story can change a person's life. No matter if its origins are the cold and gray of Russia or the wistful plains of Kansas.