He told me it wouldn’t hurt, not one single bit. He told me I wouldn’t feel a thing, a quick in and out, and that’d be it. Simple. Easy-peasy lemon squeezy. No big deal, he said. Plus, I could make a quick buck, a fast fifty. I needed the money, God knows. I was fresh out of CDs to hock, and my folks had changed their locks again. What the hell? I said sure, I mean, when you’re at the bottom, what’ve ya got to lose? I asked all the needed questions, ya know. Can I take a shower? How ‘bout somethin’ to eat? Fresh clothes? How ‘bout some shoes? Got any tampons? Ya givin’ out condoms? How ‘bout clean needles? I mean, fifty bucks is great, but it wasn’t gonna score me a smacker AND clean shit. Jesus, I wasn’t stupid. Still ain’t. I could’ve hit 3rd street that night and walked away with at least SIXTY bucks in under 40 minutes. That was a last resort, but still, they didn’t know that. Anyway, he agreed to my terms, so why wouldn’t I have gone? He said it wouldn’t hurt. No pain is always a bonus in my book. Plus, he said I’d get a new tote bag. What a fuckin’ liar. Look, I’ve done some fucked up shit in my life, kid, and I’ve fucked over a LOT of people, but I’ve never lied to any of ‘em. Ever. That’s where I draw the line. I mean, even when my mom asked if I’d taken her pearls, I told her the truth. Of course I took her pearls. I took her diamonds, too. Smack’s never free, and it’s never grow’d on trees. Jesus. Well, I showed up. I didn’t think a few hours would matter to these people. Maybe I was wrong? I don’t know. I’ll probably never know. I had shit to do. I didn’t have money for the bus, so I had to hoof it. Shit. Walkin’ clear ‘cross downtown, then up and over to the hillside takes time. That place looked like a pole barn. There weren’t no signs outside or anything. I’d walked past it three times, lookin’ for the address before I knew. Smart folks, I guess. I mean, it wasn’t much of a building. It looked more like a machine shop. A chop shop. Heh. Go figure. I remember draggin’ my ass up to the side door, pressin’ a button and praying they had something to drink. My mouth was drier than a sunburnt cornflake, I remember that! Some big ass lady wearing pink and purple scrubs opened the door and let me in. Yeah, her nametag read “Connie” but she looked more like a Bertha to me. Maybe a Georgina. I remember thinkin’ she looked like a God damned Easter egg in those scrubs. That’s prolly sacrilegious or somethin’. Whatever, I’m sure I’m burnin’ in hell anyway. She wasn’t friendly, prolly on account of her serious spread of facial hair, and she made me fill out a gaggle of papers. I had to sign my name in so many places, I almost walked out, but I needed that fifty bucks. I guess I should’ve read those papers I signed. I don’t know what to say about that. I was thirsty, and in a bad way, kid. Sometimes life gets that way. Sometimes people do the damnedest things for a few bucks. I’m not the only one, ya know. Now I never really cared much what those folks were studyin’. That doctor guy I met, Dr. SoAndSo, he mentioned something about the effects of smack on the female reproductive system. Whatever, I didn’t care cause I wasn’t plannin’ on havin’ no babies. I wasn’t livin’ in a kind way for babies, kid. Dr. SoAndSo said all I’d need to do was let ‘em draw some blood, take an ultrasound, and I’d be on my way with my tote bag of stuff, and fifty cash. Well, Dr. SoAndSo was a lyin’ sack. Anyway, Nurse Connie, aka Bertha Georgina escorted me to the shower, handed me a plastic trash can, ya know, the kind ya see under desks, and told me to throw my shit in the skuzz bucket. That overgrown twat said I had five minutes to get my shit done. FIVE MINUTES?? Well, she may’ve been the only honest soul in the place, cause the hot water was gone in two! I might as well’d taken a whore bath in a water fountain. Jesus. The shower closet was tiny. Like one ass capacity small. Ya couldn’t bend over without hittin’ your head, or your ass, or both. It felt good to finally wash my hair, though. I remember that. They didn’t give me any razors to shave my yeti legs. I should’ve asked for some, but it wouldn’t uh mattered. I could barely wash my ass in that stall, let alone try to finagle shavin’. Oh well. I didn’t think about it then. I was just thinkin’ about that money, and gettin’ my next fix. That’s what happens, kid. I tried to dry off after washin’ myself, but that’s hard to do with a hand towel. Bertha Georgina apparently didn’t have a good grasp on wet body to towel size ratios. I bet she has a good grasp on that shit when she’s at home drying off her own girth! Jesus. I ‘member reachin’ for my dirty clothes to finish dryin’ off, and that fat bitch mustuh came in and took em, cause they was gone! I mean, gone! So I started hollerin’ for Nurse Connie to bring me another towel, and boy, maybe that just sent her over the edge, cause the next thing I know, that door flung open and that fat bitch grabbed me by my hair and started draggin’ my naked ass down the hall! I was kickin’ and screamin’ and punchin’ that bitch in her flab all the way down that hall, let me tell ya! I’ve never been one to go down without a fight, kid. I don’t know what room she threw me in, it was hard to tell with my head all yanked downward, but Bertha Georgina was wearin’ shit colored crocs. Yeah, I remember those damn crocs. The room was lit up like the Vegas strip, like super bright, and I remember seeing some table legs, and feelin’ a jab in my ass, then that was it. Lights out, kid. Lights out. When I came to, I was layin’ between a couple uh dumpsters in the 4th street alley. I was still wearin’ my grungy clothes I had showed up in, and the damn pain in my gut was awful. I remember barfin’ like crazy cause of the pain. It wasn’t till I tried to stand up that I noticed the blood. I’d been hacked, kid. Chopped up, er . . . into, I guess. I could show you the scar. It’s God damned ugly, and it caused me lots of downtime. So, I don’t know what more I can tell ya, kid. I ain’t yer momma. I’m nobody’s momma, and ya wouldn’t want me anyway, would ya? I mean, you may’ve been baked in my goods, but they done ripped those goods right outta me! I tried to go to the law, but the law never believe smackers, kid. Never. Hell, maybe you don’t believe me none, either. But, like I said, I never lie ‘bout nothin’! Whatever them folk did to me that day, and as much as it hurt, I should prolly thank ‘em. I haven’t craved a fix since. And that’s the truth.
“Hi! Hi! What’s your name?” Mare bubbled out at the top of her lungs as she bounded off of her porch. She hadn’t noticed any neighbor kids since she’d moved in a few weeks earlier, so when she spotted the boy in her backyard, twirling on the tire swing, she wasted no time flying out the back door. Mare was hoping to meet some girls in her neighborhood, but after weeks of no one to play with; her parents working, unpacking, and being cranky, she was happy to meet any kids at all.
Mare laid heavy eyes on the boy; soaking up his entire image. She figured he was around her own age, and no older than 11. Her cousin Jason was 11, and he was at least a head taller than this boy, so Mare reasoned her new acquaintance couldn’t be 11. This boy was thinner than her cousin, and she thought he looked a little sad. His clothes were sort of weird, too. Black dress slacks that may have been around the block, and a grey button-up shirt with odd straps that kept his pants up. She couldn’t remember what those things were called. Penders? Dependers? Pant straps! She settled on pant straps. That made the most sense to her. Mare wondered why he had to wear those fancy clothes, and whether he was gonna get in trouble for his pants being dirty.
“My name’s Mare. I’m 9 and we just moved in. What’s your name? You like my tire swing? It’s too heavy for me to spin it, but you can. Yeah, keep twirling, I don’t mind.” Mare kicked at the roots of the tire swing’s home; a humungous oak tree that her mom said would drop a “shit-ton” of nuts in the fall. Too bad it wasn’t fall, Mare thought with a giggle.
“I guess you don’t have a name?” Mare looked at the boy, who had come to a stop. He returned her glance and shook his head side to side, as if to say no. His eyes were dark, and Mare noticed how they looked like her black marbles from that Chinese checkers game her ole Aunt Jeanie had given her for Christmas. Chinese checkers my butt, Mare chuckled to herself, checkers don’t use marbles.
“You don’t have a name? How can you NOT have a name? I thought everyone had names. Even my bitty ole Aunt Jeanie has a name, and nobody likes that lady, let me tell ya!” Mare chuckled out loud at herself and kicked the roots again. “You live ‘round here?” She inquired a little further. The boy shook his head yes, shuffled his wiry frame over on the tire and patted his hand down, inviting Mare to have a seat. Mare’s eyes widened and smiled to save the world.
“Okay! I’ll swing with you!” Mare flung her legs over the tire and wriggled in next to her new friend. “Twirl, friend, twirl!”
Mare gripped the rusty chains of the swing as they picked up speed, twirling round and round like water down the bathtub drain. She didn’t think that old tire swing could even go THAT fast, but there she was, spinning like crazy with her hair flapping, and feeling like she was about to barf. She clenched her eyes shut, to stave off the need to puke, and darkness sucked her in.
Snippets of faces flashed through her mind like a movie. Big, angry eyes, even bigger hands grabbing at her arms, and a white-haired lady screaming, all empty-like. Mare suddenly felt all of the air get sucked from her lungs and she started to gasp. “Stop!” she tried to holler out, but felt her voice give way. Nothing. She struggled for grip on the chains and tried to open her eyes, but couldn’t. It was as though her eyes had been glued shut. She panicked, let go, felt her body go limp, then a stinging thud.
The next few days were a bit of a blur for Mare. She remembered spinning with the neighbor boy, but her momma said she didn’t see that kid. Her momma also said that Mare had given her quite a scare when she’d found Mare unconscious, under the tire swing. Mare didn’t remember going to the hospital, and she thought it was all just a bad dream, like the ones she’d been having for days. Her momma said the bad dreams were part of her “conk-cushion” whatever that was.
She couldn’t get the vision of big angry eyes out of her head, or that white haired lady, and every time she envisioned them, Mare felt angry. Like, so angry she wanted to throw things, anything. Her momma told her the dreams and angry feelings would go away once her conk-cushion healed. Stupidconk-cushions, Mare thought to herself.
One week after her fall, Mare finally felt like her usual, playful self. It was a wonderful, sunny day out, so Mare decided to keep a watch out for her new friend. She really wanted to know his name, and show him to her parents so they wouldn’t think she made him up.
“Mom, can I eat lunch on the back porch?” Mare shimmied up to her mother’s side in the kitchen. “Please, momma? It’s so nice out!”
Her momma wiped her hands on a towel, scooped up a plate and looked down at her daughter. “I think that sounds like a great idea, Mare. You could use some sunshine, couldn’t ya? I hope PB&J, potato chips, and yogurt is acceptable today.”
“Strawberry jelly?” Mare’s mouth started to water at the thought of strawberry jelly, and her tummy growled at her. Strawberry jelly was her all-time favorite.
“You bet, sugar-pie.” Her momma smiled and headed out the back door, with Mare in tow. “Would you like me to sit out here with you? I have one more load of laundry to fold, and then I can join you. Maybe we could go for a walk in a little bit?”
“Sounds great, ma. Maybe we can find my friend’s house!” Mare stomped her feet excitedly and clasped her hands together. “Yeah! Let’s go find his house!”
Her mother sat Mare’s lunch on a small weathered table, next to an equally small weathered chair that accompanied the house when they had moved in. “This table and chair is just your size, Mare! I guess I’d never noticed that before. Hmm. Well that’s just about perfect for porch lunches, isn’t it? Okay, I’m gonna run in and finish up the laundry real quick, and I’ll be right out. What would you like to drink, dear? Water? Lemonade?”
“Oh! Lemonade, please!” Mare smiled up at her mother as she swung the back door open. Once her mom was out of view Mare turned her attention to her quaint lunch location. She timidly shifted her frame into the small wooden chair and it dawned on her that she had never sat in it before. How long had they lived in this new house? She wondered, and began her attempt to count back the days on her fingers that lay in her lap. “There are seven days in a week, and four weeks in a month” she whispered to herself as she crunched her young brain with numbers.
Suddenly, a creaking sound caught her attention and she looked up to see that neighbor boy sitting on her tire swing, under that “shit-ton of nuts” of tree. Mare was shocked and delighted simultaneously. Where had he come from? He wasn’t there a second ago, she thought to herself.
“Hey!” she shouted without even thinking about it. Mare instantly jumped up and bounded off the porch towards her new friend. “Where’ve you been? I was hopin’ you’d come back, I want you to meet my mom!” Mare’s excitement reflected in her voice as she climbed onto the tire swing next to the boy, completely forgetting about the growl in her tummy.
******************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************** Mare’s parents had sought out a small town to live in when her father was transferred for work. They thought it would be better for Mare. Small towns at least felt safer than a big city neighborhood. They could get to know everyone in a little town, and not have to worry so much about their daughter playing outside. Had they realized that Everton’s population of children was next to none, they may had opted for the city. All of the research they had done never made it clear that most all of the kids in Mare’s new school district were bussed in from the outlaying ranch communities. They didn’t dawn on that until a week or two after moving in.
Mare’s father had taken a promotion at the solar factory, 25 miles away in the bustling city of Havery. The job was the opportunity of a lifetime, with a substantial pay raise that allowed Mare’s mom to stay home. This all worked out well since they moved during summer, and it gave the family a chance to get settled before transferring Mare into a new school.
But they both felt a twinge of sympathy for their only child, since the move meant leaving Mare’s friends over 300 miles away. She would have to start over. They felt even worse when they realized there were no young kids to speak of in their new town.
One Saturday, about a week after they had moved in, Mare’s mom took a walk around town and introduced herself to every person she came across. She had met the post master, the town clerk, every neighbor in a four-block radius, and the info hub of town; Pat Waylen, the Everton Corner Mart owner. She quickly realized that Pat knew everyone and anything in the little town, and had tucked that notation into her hat, just in case.
When Mare took that spill off the tire swing and began talking about the new friend she’d met, her mom made a trip to the Corner Mart. As she checked out with some milk and eggs, she quizzed Pat about possible neighbor boys. Pat told her he couldn’t think of any young boys living near their new house, but he’d keep his eyes and ears open. How strange, her mother thought. Mare’s mom and dad resided in the notion that her concussion gave her some strange dreams, and Mare was having difficulty realizing the boy wasn’t real. She’d grow past it soon enough, if they just let it go.
“I’m telling you, Rick, she wants to go find his house. It’s been a week, I was hoping she’d be past this already. She still thinks he’s gonna come back.” Mare’s mom propped the receiver of the phone with a shoulder while she haphazardly folded some jeans. “Well, I’ll take her for a walk in a bit, and who knows, maybe we get lucky and actually find this boy. Oh, God, Rick, what if this boy IS real? What if he pushed her off the swing? Okay, okay, I’ll try to calm down, but I’m a little concerned, Rick. Okay hon, see you when you get home. Yep. I love you, too.” She laid the phone down on the counter and glanced out the window. “Oh shit!” she screamed and ran out the back door.
“Hey, why you wearing the same clothes?” Mare looked her friend up and down. “Don’t you have other clothes?” She was blunt and to the point as she sat on the swing, jutting her chin out to get a closer look at his face. His eyes were mesmerizing, and Mare couldn’t stop staring into them. She waited for an answer, but he just kept looking at her.
“Aren’t you gonna say sompthin?” She quizzed harder. “What’s your name? My mom thinks you’re a figment of my imagination. When I fell the other day, I got a conk-cushion on my head…shook up my brains a little.” Mare studied the boy.
“Spin.” He whispered, barely audible, and Mare opened her eyes real big.
“You CAN talk!” she blurted out. “If we spin, will you tell me your name?” Mare took hold of the chains real tight; she didn’t want to fall off again and get another conk-cushion that gave her nightmares.
“Spin.” The boy whispered again, and without even pushing, the swing began to rotate. Mare kept her eyes locked on his, and as the swing picked up speed, she noticed his eyes began to change. At first, they were the size of black marbles, but then they grew a little, and a little more, and a little more, until all of a sudden, all Mare could see was black all around her. She felt the spinning all out-of-control like, and clenched her grip on the chains. Flashes of that white-haired lady came. Flash after flash after flash until the flashes all ran together like a projector. The lady was swinging her arms at Mare and yelling. “You’re a worthless boy! You’re a worthless boy!”
Mare tried to scream, but nothing came out. Stop! She screamed silently. Stop! I want to get off! Still nothing. She jammed her eyes shut, but it didn’t stop the visions. The white-haired lady came at her with fists a-flailing and punched the side of Mare’s head. She felt the thud, the sting, and then everything went dark. When Mare came to, she was still sitting on the tire swing, The sunlight hurt her eyes a bit as she opened them, and she heard her momma hollering all loud. “Mare! Mare! Oh my God, are you okay?”
“Yeah mom, I’m, I’m fine.” Mare stuttered back as she looked up to see her mom running toward her. But, her mom didn’t run to her. She ran to some other kid on the ground, and Mare stretched her legs over the tire swing to get a better look. There, on the ground, Mare’s mom scooped up a little girl that was wearing Mare’s clothes. “Who is that?” Mare asked. “Mom? Who is that?” she asked again, but was ignored. It was like her mom couldn’t even hear her.
Mare looked around, confused. Then she looked down at her legs, and at her arms, and her own chest. She was wearing strange clothes, clothes that didn’t belong to her. “Oh my God! I’m wearing pant straps!” she screamed and glanced up at her mother who was carrying a limp girl that looked an awful lot like herself. “MOMMA!” she screamed again, terrified of what was happening. The limp girl in her mother’s arms lifted her head to look back at Mare, and her eyes were as black as marbles.
It's not tragic, it's fucking unforgivable. It's absolutely unfucking acceptable. Shot dead in a motherfucking desk. Shot dead in geography, social fucking history, eating their goddamn sandwich and fries. How many motherfucking cries does there need to be?? Bleeding by their books, and their futures seeping down the hallway tiles all the while our leaders shed crocodile tears and offer condolences of empty motherfucking prayers. HOW FUCKING DARE WE SAY A WORD?? Was it your child blown to bits and pieces studying literature or geometry?? Was it their bloody gurgles you heard?? NO! It is not FUCKING TRAGIC! It is UNFUCKING ACCEPTABLE!!
We were explosive, once. We tore each other apart. I questioned your motives, and you defiled my heart. But we were just kids, clawing at the world. We knew nothing of degrees and eloquence. We bawked at forethought and gave two shits for consequence. We never saw the wrinkles set in like masonry on the walks, and we missed our landing among diluted point of views and arrogant, centric talks. Youth and ignorance abused our potential for greatness. So now here we are, where gravity has left us weighted.
I lift you up, as far as my arms will allow and when these old, time-capsule tendons have reached their breech readied to rip apart I stretch a little more and let go of my heart.
You land solid, confident, sure-footed. I watch you run. I watch you run so fast grabbing every taste as though it’d be your last and I am so fulfilled so thrilled to see you free.
You are already more than I could ever be and that is a fact-checked timesheet a testament and trophy I’ll take to the grave with me when my clock runs out.
I hope you’ve watched every move I have ever made in your shadow. I hope to have left a trail for the sunless days when life feels too long too shallow. Bread crumbs that the birds won’t eat so you may see where to place your feet and follow my steps back home or wherever you need to be.
I hope you stand tall full of zest and zeal for the Universe will test you mess with you make you crumble and fall. I hope I have shown you the best locale for your walls and where to keep your ladders. I lift you up, as far as my arms will allow and when these old, time-capsule tendons have reached their breech readied to rip apart I stretch a little more and let go of my heart.
Casey nestled himself into the wafty hillside; knees to chin, arms interlocked. He loved the hillside during twilight, when the windows opened. The tall wisp grass came alive then, and he liked the way each silver blade would bend and sway toward the windows; reaching for all of the lost souls.
It was an ethereal sight as the souls slipped in. One by one they would slide through the ports, shapeless as smoke, individual, and vibrant as rainbows. He always hoped that one of these twilights would be for him. Even then, crouched upon a tuft of wisp grass overlooking the Valley of Ports, he held out hope.
He had heard the stories in the elder halls, of course. All lost souls are ushered into the elder halls for the stories. Casey was no different. He and countless others were told to wait, if there was no one there to collect them. They could wander wherever they wanted, and watch for the openings if they were expecting anyone. Casey was expecting someone. So every twilight, he found his patch of wisp grass.
Many times it was painful, to see others being collected, reconnected, and sent out to the eternal realms. And he felt so guilty every time he wished she would slip through. He still remembered what it was like to be human; the colors, the tangibility of everything. As he sat on the hillside, with the wisp grass rustling, he strained to recall the feeling of green grass beneath his bare feet. The smell of sticky sweet earth flooded through him and he felt her spark light up his soul. He missed her, and this view from the hillside was his only touchstone.
“If my time comes first, I will wait for you.” Casey promised her. He remembered the promise, but he could no longer recall when his time came. Time didn’t matter anymore. He had memories, of course, but no death memories.
All of the memories from his human form revolved around his love. Their first meeting, just north of the tracks downtown, along the river. Their first kiss, under the harvest moon, behind his father’s barn. He remembered how her amber hair framed her face, like a fiery pixie. He remembered how she used to say his name, and if he tried hard enough, he could still hear her voice whisper “Casey” and shivers would rack right to his core. So many times as he sat on the hillside, he thought she was close to slipping through to him, because he had heard her whisper. Each time he was mistaken, and his soul would anguish. He didn’t try so hard to remember anymore. Casey now thought it best to leave the chances up to fate, if such a thing existed. He still hoped, though. Hoping for her was different than straining to recall.
As Casey meditated on the flowing blades of wisp grass, his gaze broke when the windows began to illuminate. This was his favorite part of twilight, and the only time the colors really came. He lifted his sight to soak in the swirling hues and he noticed something was missing. Normally, the windows would open with soft blues and greens, and the babies would gently sweep in. The elder guards were always in waiting for the babies, but not this time.
The colors were different, too. The wisp grass separated in front of him, all the way down the hillside, and Casey was immediately saturated in waves of orange, red, and yellow light. An odd warmth soaked up from his perch and he watched his own silver hue begin to morph into something more vivid. “What is this?” Casey whispered aloud.
“This is love” A familiar voice whispered back, “and I’m so glad you waited.”
I was seventeen and he was thirty-something. I checked the registers while he wore a wedding ring. I bagged the plumbing parts while he wanted to bag all the sweethearts that worked the express lane. He was tall and twiddled his moustache, and anytime there was a question to ask, he would mumble so you’d lean in close. His eyes never found mine, lest my eyes were in my clothes that covered my chest. I was seventeen and he was thirty-something. I processed returns while he wore a wedding ring. He would invite all of us young things to the bar down the street, after work, summer routine. Loud music and beers a-pourin’. I was seventeen when they said I was a-whorin’ with a married man, my Menards manager. I wasn’t that drunk, I don’t think I staggered in the parking lot of the North Shore Inn when he grabbed me and pulled me in stuck his tongue in my mouth then down into my throat. I was shocked and surprised that this married guy was forcibly kissing me that night. What could I say? Should I report him? I needed my job, and I kind of adored him for scheduling me at the Customer Service Counter which was a whole lot better than Register 10 in the winter, where you freeze from the breeze that blew through the sliding doors. Did that make me a whore? I really didn’t think so. But what did I know? I was only seventeen, and hadn’t even had sex yet. So I forced myself to just forget and act like nothing even happened. But it happened, and it continues to happen. Every day, in different places. Different folks, different faces. But it is all the same, isn’t it? I was seventeen, and he was thirty-something. I checked the register, while he wore a wedding ring. And that was the first time I was assaulted. I hushed it down, and kept it vaulted, but I won’t be doing that anymore. And I have never, ever, ever… been anyone’s little whore.
It seemed like the upticks happened all at once. I mean, I could be wrong, it’s hard to tell, really. The changes were slow and fast, like a strong breeze minus the scent of a racing storm. No one noticed the upticks, till they were sweeping through the homes. So, it’s hard to judge a timeline, really.
I remember when they locked down the internet and all the news sites were taken off line. Anything creative was all of a sudden restricted. You know, games, music, blogs, vlogs, pretty much all of social media, and no downloading of that stuff, either. You could imagine, then, just how many people were totally pissed off. So many of ‘em. Oh, gosh, so many of ‘em.
But, we didn’t really hear about it ‘till later. And even then, at the county meetings, when ole Sam Landers, Tilly Goodrich, and the King family broadcasted their voicemails from New York, California, Florida, and Texas, even then we didn’t think it would spread clear out to us, which it didn’t. Not at first.
Us county folk, well, it just wasn’t the five-alarm fire for us that it was in the cities. We could still do some stuff online. You know, banking, email, shop, stuff like that. Commerce was allowed, but that was about it.
Sam Landers’ brother had called him in the very beginning, when all the gamers took to the streets in Manhattan. Yeah. His message said that ICE brought out all the gear to gather those crowds, and they were apparently backed up by droves of security cronies. Water cannons, pepper bombs, and aerial chloroform blankets took out most of the folks.
I recall Sam’s brother sounding concerned, I mean, I could hear it in his voice, hell, we could probably all hear it in his voice, but he was safe. He had said so. There wasn’t a one of us at the county meeting that had the gumption to say anything to Sam about the fear in that message. I think we just ignored it.
Tilly Goodrich played her daughter’s message. Her voicemail said the protests in L.A. had shut down most all of the freeways, until they started to buckle. None of us were too sure what that meant, and that message was cut short, so I may never know. I can surmise, though. Yeah. You know, I think about it now, and it just. . . I can’t. . . I can’t even fathom. But back then, we were all just thankful we lived out here, you know?
Anyway, so yeah. What was I saying? Oh, yeah, things just happened at the same time. Back before the web crash, in the summer, business had been taking off. The administration had eased up a whole bunch of farming restrictions, which was a good thing for us. We had the hog farm then, and not having to spend so much on litigated feed meant we could double, and then triple our hog count.
We didn’t realize what was happening at the time, but our biggest account had doubled their hog purchases. We were concerned that we couldn’t keep up the breedin’ and feedin’ fast enough to fill all the orders that were coming through. I get it now. I should’ve connected those dots, but we weren’t getting the news fast enough, you know? I didn’t know. None of us really knew. It was so weird.
Well, the whole scenario became a little clearer when Tommy King followed one of the hog trucks, after the county meeting. The Kings had about a dozen kids on their cattle ranch, and they were always nosing around on everyone else’s farms. I’d long known that the King kids were Intel operators for their dad. We were selling way more hogs than usual, and the Kings kept tabs on that, let me tell you. More hog sales usually meant more pork demand, which meant less cattle sales for the Kings. Yeah, anytime ole Denny King felt his pocketbook shrink, he just had to know why. He was a paranoid fucker.
So yeah, Tommy King followed one of our loads over a hundred miles into town. How he was never nabbed is beyond me, but, the King kids were oily. Well, I’m thankful he did what he did, anyway. He came back and told us what he saw, down in the landfill outside of town. He told us what he heard, too, but the worst part was what he smelled. He smelled the hogs. Thousands of them. And to think we all thought they were just going to slaughter, to make millions of Sunday dinners. Well, that’s not what happened at all, now was it?
It ended up being too little too late for the Kings, and for Sam Landers, and poor Tilly Goodrich. They were gone two days after we heard the news of Tommy’s findings. Like, just gone. A day later it was Darren and Lorraine, the hobby farmers, and the Swanson family. It was a whole week later when they came for the rest of us. It was horrible. Our hogs ate everyone.
That summer, when our biggest account was buying up our pigs, we didn’t know it was the administration’s fault. But it was. They had already taken over the supply chains, and if they weren’t hauling folks out to the hog pits, then they were starving ‘em out of their homes and businesses. I guess there ended up being about 500 hog pits in total, before the United Nations finally stepped in and bombed the shit out of D.C.
Keep in mind, each hog pit had thousands of hungry pigs, and pigs will eat anything if you let ‘em. I’ve seen a pig get a taste of fresh blood from a scratched sibling, and it was all over with. That pig tore its littermate apart in mere seconds. I’ll never forget that, so just imagine what a thousand bloodthirsty hogs could do to a crowd of starved, defenseless people. Tommy said the screams were never-ending that day he followed the truck. Upticks. That’s what I call ‘em. Upticks in control. Upticks in protests. Upticks in missing people. Upticks in hog sales. Upticks in hog pits. You do the math. If I never see another swine, it will be too soon.
Kent Polling was a dude at the gas station across the alley. He pumped gas. He turned wrenches. Had coke-bottle glasses. Danced with a broom. Sold candy bars and liked to talk. I was like, 10 or so, and had some chalk. The colored kind. I may have stole it from Jimmy, the neighbor kid, but, never mind. I was in love. It was dusk, in the summer. The pump station pavement looked smooth. Like a canvas. The place was closed, as I sat with my chalk and scribbled my crush for all the world to see. I even signed my work:
January air stung crisp on her nose as she arose to a moment, absorbing the view from The Garden of Sentinels. Stucco megaliths, stoic, grounded guards perched starboard side. A frozen, leafless canopy extended before her eyes framing the city lights that twinkled and reflected her enjoyment of the night.
The view refreshed her spirit, while the old sentinels added perspective to her size.
They were lively, once. Back in the days of regal air, lawn polo, and croquet. Back when nannies chased the children ‘cross the greens and parents ushered company to their fancied parlors for Brandy and late-night cigars.
Now, the nannies are gone. The children have grown, and their parents, a mere memory. Tucked away in the dusty bookshelves of the local library; settled into history.
But as she stood there, soaking up her shivered stare, she could feel the remnants pulsating across the brisk, January wind in The Garden of Sentinels. And they felt good.
I need something, and it three-dimensionally matters. I need your presence, your where-with-all state of mind that finds my brain attractive. I need your reactive, proactive, retro-active embrace to pull through my past luggage neatly lined in my cerebral corridor just like it was air. Like no parcels are even lying there. I need your stare warm on my shoulders as I empty those vessels to make space for your goodness. I need your words and actions to be brutally honest because they three-dimensionally matter.
He was my needle in a haystack. I had no idea. This gloriously cut diamond floating through the inter-webs like Sylvester's Magic Pebble. Hidden among the quaquaversal happenings of what is my life. Holy hell. Timing is everything, and nothing, all tangled together like yarn knots on a shelf, awaiting their metamorphosis into mittens, scarves or vividly hued tree bombs. Even yarn knots yearn for needles.
Thick as thieves, we ran with troubadours devouring the night. Street lights speckled on burning desires that bedecked our every move. We chanted and grooved to private drummers piercing our souls with expressions of freedom. We waxed the darkness and waned the light as it morphed with our form.
We were lovers, sisters, brothers, forlorned beatniks carving out the shadows.
We danced in the midnight rain and screamed echos of etched pain down the sewers. We allowed the trees to skewer every rage within our bodies, and begged for the earth's forgiveness.
We pilfered thoughts and pecked at notions floating in the ocean's waves of seediness. We treaded gently, and bellowed with force. Thick as thieves, we ran with troubadours and saturated our veins with words.
I don't want to be your weekend lover, or an afterthought when you've had another whiskey sour sipped over rocks. I don't want to be your raunchy secret posted knotch. Oh no. I want to be your tattooed lady, slip under my canvas covered muse. I want to lose my senses on the fences that crumble at our feet. I want to wreck the walls of existence that color our imaginary boundaries of short-lived partitions. I want to walk the halls and hear them talk up a chatter. I want to be that piece of you that scatters up the doorstep for another look. I want to be your bedside table, daytime verbiage storybook living read. I want to heed your words while you speak them, and tell you my stories in trade. I want to feel every fold of your hands while time slips by and we age. I want to be your backdrop, your pedestal, your spotlight, your sage. I'm past the stage of playing games like school kids by locker doors. I've long since traded backpacks and glances for late night talks and super slow dances by the kitchen table. Pork roast and coffee, tell me I'm lovely with bedhead, and sleep in my eyes, and don't disguise exactly what you want. Time is a commodity too precious to slip by alone. So, no, I don't want to be your weekend lover. Not ever.
Amarillo sunshine dripping through my window. Cascading heavy thuds of people I have loved forage up memories like a Super 8 movie screeching ‘cross my cerebellum, my scarred, personal, theatre screen. Oh, how I have loved them, those that have completed me. Those that do not breathe. Those I can no longer touch. I learned real young that life can be hard, and I was taught to never ask for much, so I’ve been workin’ just as hard as I can. But in between the Amarillo rays, on those days when strength is a commodity, I come up short and I find myself aching, just to hold their hand. And I feel myself buckle, white-knuckled, never really ready for the ride.
The DNA oozes from my eyes as I watch you lie, stiff and sticky fluid on the ground. Someone snatched you up. Someone snatched you down. Someone stopped you, from coming ‘round, before you had the time to grow. And the air is siphoned from my soul in some strange symphony of letting go. This orchestra of goodbyes resonates like the bloody baying of the devil’s hounds as I watch you lie… stiff and sticky fluid on the ground. And the DNA still oozes from my eyes. This was life, before the bombs came, and the carnage tore us apart. This was life, innocent melodies mixing hearts like a cocktail of breath and love. This was life, before the heinous shove into the darkened street of death and hate. And the drums beat a rhythm. And the strings scream like sirens we want to deafen. And the DNA streams from our eyes a matching tone for this Orchestra of Goodbyes.
He smiles at me, with fatherly glances and says hello. He jokes and pokes fun, asks me how my day is, all sticky sweet, like corporate sugar. But I know, I am just a number. Here today could be gone tomorrow, and he is a fortunate fellow. He has a whole web of fortunate bedfellows, nodding in unison like bobble-head dolls bedecking the walls of his golf tee and spreadsheet office. I line up the plates and dot the i's, still all the wise of my doormattery. I keep my smile painted, and deadlines met with efficiency. Hungry mouths depend on it. A pleasantry here, and a thank you there does not equate to me going nowhere. Doormats are a dime a dozen. I sip my coffee and understand I am merely cattle in this corporate land.
Forty-five moles harbored into the Tree of Life. “Just for a moment” they said, as they bored, deep and red, into the roots, teeth and claw gnashing ripe. Forty-five monstrous moles dug into the limbs with fury. Once a home for the multitude, now breached, undermined, and weakened in crude, devious fashion. “No need to worry” heeded the critters, the no-good, nocturnal hitters that chawed at the fibers so many creatures called home. “We’re here to help, and fix all your problems, to ward off your enemy, and stable the wobblems that you know nothing about.”
And the forty-five ill-intended moles set about creating holes for all of the other lives to fall into.
Yesterday was the time when we walked with wolves and slept with angels at our feet. Lapping up laughter as though we were already dead. Yesterday is when we lived. Just yesterday, I felt the warmth of your neck as you crooned a fool, all trick-footed, and brazen. Yesterday, I drank your beer, while you ollied down the drive, in your Vans and bagginess. I swear, we were alive, just yesterday.