“Mother once told me of the great Shaka, uniter of peoples. A great warrior who fought the white-hats for our land. However, Shaka is long dead. Mother is long dead. Those who I’ve held dear are dead.” Nomzamo looked up beyond the canopy of the trees to the evening sun.
“Intulo has tried to tell you this, Nomzamo. Why don’t you listen to Intulo?” Intulo’s tongue stretched out of his mouth not quite reaching his upper cheek.
“What are you doing, Intulo?” Nomzamo chuckled.
“I’ve ssseen other lizards lick their eyes, I’d like to think it’s most pleasant, but I haven’t been able to pull it off for thousands of years.”
“Perhaps, you ran too fast Intulo. Not only did it dry out your eyes, your throat muscles contracted so as to keep your tongue entrapped.” Nomzamo looked at the dirt, and hopped off the log she was sitting on. “Then, maybe Shaka could have been immortal. Gotten rid of the white-hats once and for all.”
Nomzamo walked amongst the trees the beads of her skirt swaying a little as the wind passed. Intulo careened to keep up with her.
“Intulo think you praise this Shaka too much. One immortal man does not change the world in this way. Intulo has seen it. Lunwaba visited a class of men.”
“Where are these men, Intulo? I have seen a white-hat die. For surely it is not them.”
Intulo hiss-laughed at the proposition, “When I say “class of men”, Intulo means something much different than a “race of men”, like those of the white-hat. These men, are in shape only, that is on this world. They come from Endaweni Emnyama, the Land of Shadow.”
“The Land of Shadow? Intulo. I would like to hear what kind of place this is.”
“It is home to a struggle between the forces of Evil, and the forces of the Sky, though it is closer to the Evil and shares many properties.”
“Have you been to this Land, Intulo?”
“Before, yes. Though, I don’t like to admit it.” Intulo’s stomach growled. Intulo caressed his blue scaley stomach, but smiled in a way that made Nomzamo shiver down her spine. “Intulo is hungry. When is dinner?”
“Intulo will have to work for dinner. You do not make it easy on me, making me take care of you like you don’t have powers from the Sky.”
“Intulo told you, temporarily...” Intulo waved his hands in the air stalling for time. “Divorced.”
“I told you, it didn’t sound as consensual as you made it out to be, and then you tackled a bushpig. I was hoping to get you to do it again. Intulo isn’t the only one who gets hungry.”
“But, Intulo is the most important who gets hungry to Intulo.” Intulo pouted his blue lips showing the yellow seam of the interior of his mouth. Nomzamo, pouting a little herself, stopped dead in her tracks and popped Intulo on the nose. Intulo instantly put up his clawed hands in defence. “What was that for?”, came the muffled reply.
“Being selfish Intulo. I can only expect you’ve been sent to be reformed so you can be given back your powers. I’ll be the first to congratulate you in finding the best teacher in all of the Land. Now I suggest you find out from your lizard brethren where we might find a meal. I will ready the spear.”
Intulo’s form began to compress and rearrange itself into the form of an agama. This started in his legs shifting his bipedal form down closer to ground level, followed quickly by the arms. The head and body were affected near instantaneously. By the time he looked like a regular reptile, his coloration and scale density would shift into two or three distinct patterns before settling into his new form. The lizard flicked his tongue out at Nomzamo before scurrying off into the trees.
The call of a whistling duck announced the beginning of Nomzamo’s time alone. The sound of a drum began to echo through the woods. Nomzamo began to flex in time with the beat. Another drum began to accompany the music, and Nomzamo began to step in time with the beats. Before long, the drums were many, and the constant movement from Nomzamo had gotten her blood pumping. Thats when the singing began, Nomzamo was soon dragged this way and that by the music of the Hundred Voices. They sang of the beginning of The Great Hunt, and wished Nomzamo luck on her endeavor. Nomzamo ran up and down logs, gyrated utop rocks, and shook her chest at butterflies. However, as Nomzamo thrust her spear into the air a final time, the music died down, and the Hundred Voices grew quiet. What remained was the constant beat of the drum moving Nomzamo forward as she saw the blue agamas in the distance.
Nomzamo followed a group of between two to three dozen blue-headed, orange-backed, yellow-tailed tree lizards as they scampered through the trees, down and around branches and roots, until they reached the banks of a stream, and their fleetness of foot seemed to abandon them.
Downstream there lay an ostridge on her side in an obviously pained state. The drum beat in the back of Nomzamo’s head leading her to close in on the ostridge. The coarse raspiness of the bird’s breathing couldn’t penetrate into Nomzamo’s mind, and when the time came Nomzamo pulled back her hand. The spear penetrated the side of the feathered body, and at first there was great panicked movement. However, it made it less than a meter away before falling again, this time indefinitely.
Nomzamo retrieved her spear and wiped it off in the grass. Intulo had changed back while Nomzamo was focused on the kill. His lizard followers were waiting curious to their reward. Intulo went to the rear of the hen as Nomzamo retrieved her smaller blade. She made sure that the blood drained properly while trying to ignore the fact that Intulo seemed to be diving into the back side of the hen. Intulo, eventually covered in blood due to the rending from his claws, came up with an egg. He took it to the bated consortium and broke it for them, letting the reptiles lick at, and consume the yolk. Intulo came back to the body licking his claws, as the agama consumed what they wanted and dispersed.
“You could use a more… precise method of extraction, Intulo.” Nomzamo wasn’t exactly sure if she should critique her spiritual companion when he was in his current, gore-covered state.
“You can be as precise as you want.” Intulo looked tired, and a little ashamed when he somewhat asked, “I need you to do the thing for me.”
Nomzamo grimaced, but nodded. She drug the ostridge further from the creek and then began to gather wood. Nomzamo hummed to herself as she did. It wasn’t quite dark yet by the time she’d gotten it lit. She then prepared the ostridge. She stuck her blade in near the keel and cut all the way back multiple times to expose the organs. One by one, Nomzamo extracted the major organs: liver, heart, kidneys, digestive parts. These were all burned individually, with a small saying on the part of Nomzamo, “To Intulo, My most helpful guide.”
Nomzamo knew the offering had worked, because the smoke had no smell, and Intulo visibly puffed up as the offerings were given. By the end, Nomzamo could have sworn that Intulo was an inch taller than he had been before. With Nomzamo’s offerings complete, Intulo pitched in to help cook a meal for his handy companion. Nomzamo honestly wasn’t sure the Intulo actually found the things he contributed to mealtime, but he would disappear for minutes at a time, and then return with vegetables wrapped in strange leaves and bury them close to the fire.
When the meat was done, Intulo dug up the vegetables revealing some tubers and beans, now tender to the touch of Nomzamo’s flame-cleaned blade. Nomzamo ate all she could, and Intulo went to wrapping up the hen’s meat in the strange leafs he obviously was in no short supply of. There were some things that Nomzamo felt comfortable asking Intulo about, the strange things that the pseudo-deity said or did, but when it came to the things she’d rather not do without, as Intulo seemed the most fickle of his kind that Nomzamo knew about, she refrained.
Nomzamo and Intulo sat for a little while in silence, before she got tired and curled up in the crook of tree roots. Intulo ascended the branches and hung from his orange and blue tail. Nomzamo was almost comfortable when Intulo smacked his lips before speaking, “What do you want to do Nomzamo?”
“Sleep.” Nomzamo replied as she turned her body a little to have the roots around her hug her tailbone.
“Not right now.” Intulo insisted, “Think bigger.”
“I don’t know Intulo. I can’t bring back my family.”
“No,” Intulo sighed, “You can’t.”
“I’d like to find the white-hats who killed them came to justice.”
Intulo let his tongue slip out of his mouth and let it dangle before unsuccessfully seeing if it had stretched enough to lick his eye. “What if you could do something about that, bringing them to justice. Would you want to do that?”
“I wouldn’t object to it, but it sounds like a little much Intulo. There are many white-hats, and I don’t have any way to know which ones are which.”
“I’ll help you Nomzamo, but you’ll have to trust me that this is part of the plan.”
“The Sky has a plan, for everyone, and you’re apart of my redemption. You know that right? I am in your debt.”
“When do I get to collect?” Nomzamo playfully inquired.
“If you do this with me, hopefully, by the end we will both be satisfied.”
“You’re being vague Intulo.”
Intlo laughed, “I know. It’s something that I’m proud of. It takes a lot of work for a spirit like me to disguise his words. Many of us can’t tell lies.”
“That sounds like a great place, no lies, no white-hats. Are there any wars?”
“Only one,” Intulo replied. “And, it’s the longest war that’s ever been waged.” Intulo had a smile cross his blue lips, revealing his yellow gums. “But, I remember it being nice. The war is only some places, and the plane is vast.”
“Can we go there someday? After you’re forgiven?”
“Sure, Nomzamo. If you’re keen, we’ll start tomorrow.”
“Are you telling me we’ve been amongst the trees for two weeks, and we’re just now starting?”
“Only in earnest.” Intulo breathed heavily and scratched himself behind the ear. Nomzamo had almost decided he was going to be quiet, and shut her eyes before he started again, “Can I ask you a person question?”
“Go ahead, Lizard.” Her tone started Intulo who opened his eyes wide.
“How long has it been since your blood day?”
“What does that have to do with anything?” Nomzamo asked rather calmly, if not sleepily.
“It would be too dangerous to start on that kind of day. Human physiological concerns.”
“It’s a type of magic. Don’t let it bother you, just answer the question.”
“It was before we came into the woods, but we should be fine.”
“I’m sure it will be. Thank you for answering. Lala Kahle, Nomzamo.”
“Lala Kahle, Intulo.” Nomzamo closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.
In her dream, there was a rocky, gray land devoid of life. There didn’t seem to be a sky above, or else it was the blackest night Nomzamo had ever seen. There did seem to be clouds, but it confused Nomzamo how she could see everything so clearly, when it was so dark. From over a hill, Nomzamo heard a snarl. She quickly mounted the hill, and dropped to her belly to see where the noise had come from. She saw an encampment, with wooden stakes as their border the tiny village had two huts. There was a great fire burning in the middle, and near thirty people huddled around, most wielding spears pointing out.
The great beast looked to be almost two meters from paw to shoulder, and nearly four and a quarter meters long. The black furred animal had gashes all over it’s pelt. Some led to still-open wounds, where Nomzamo could see the muscles contracting. The massive thing looked to Nomzamo almost like a jackal. It snarled as it was standing at the small entrance into the tiny village. It’s black lips gave way to pink gums and tusk-like fangs. It’s ears stood up rigid, except that the left one was marred, looking to have the tip bitten off. A scar adorned his left eye, though the ocular orb seemed undamaged. Nomzamo couldn’t see the other side, as her outlook only gave her a bit of the picture.
She felt like she laid there for hours, enthralled by this otherworldly standoff. The fact that people lived in such a place was mysterious to Nomzamo, as they didn’t seem to have any of the same natural life-giving ingredients that kept her alive. Nomzamo observed the rough dry earth, and wondered if there was ever rain here.
Suddenly, one of the men got brave enough to rush the black jackal, though Nomzamo was convinced that if this was a jackal it was the most muscular jackal she’d seen, even when comparing that it’s massive size was obviously in favor of that conclusion. The speed at which the hulk moved was so concerning to Nomzamo that she fell half-way down the hill again, before regaining her composure and getting back to her viewpoint. As she was climbing, she heard the shrill screams of a man. Nomzamo mounted the hill and saw a body being swung left and right in the beast’s mighty jaws. The cries slowly stopped, as the new sound of crunching bone echoed across the arid land. When the last whimper from the man had stopped the black jackal dropped the body. What followed was a cheerful yipping noise, not to be drowned out by a woman in the tiny village that began to moan in anguish. The giant black creature then did, what Nomzamo compared to, a dance. After shuffling his feet left and right, the beast put his front two paws on the highest of the pointed stakes and then let himself urinate at the base of the encampment.
This act was met with groans of the occupants, and then a group of ten men and women who saw this as their opening. The face of joy that Nomzamo witnessed on the black jackal’s face was interrupted when a spear entered his thigh. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the pack of them, and unflinchingly rolled over snapping the spear off and crushing the thrower in the process. The ooze of the life-fluid onto the beast’s fur churned Nomzamo’s stomach, and she could scarce believe that anything in this land acted predator to such a force.
The fur-covered gargantuan bared his teeth and bull-rushed the center mass of the tiny village’s main contingent, knocking many of them into the main fire, but not without injury of his own. He turned tail, accidentally letting his rear graze the pyre, but was met with the rest of the group that had moved to attack earlier. Two men threw their spears, and then ran behind the barricade while a group of five women bravely sacrificed themselves in a tight formation that got more solid blows into the beast. One of the women had planted her spear perfectly. This suspended the beast over her for a split second, before she was swatted away by his paw. A little more momentum and the shaft snapped.
Nomzamo then noticed a little girl, around seven, dancing around the fire. While the adults screamed, wept, and were torn apart, the girl joyfully skipped and spun around in the wide circle of burning wood. Eventually, there were no adults to speak of left standing, though a few were grievously injured and crying out in pain. Nomzamo got closer to the scene of the gore. One man in particular was yelling in a language Nomzamo didn’t recognize, but both of his legs seemed to be broken, and one of his arm bones protruded from his skin.
The beast went from person to person ripping out the throats of the fallen, and stepped over this man. He lowered his jowls to the man’s face. The beast pressed his teeth against the sides of the man’s neck until the man could no longer bear the combined pains, and passed out. It was after the sickening crunch and gloopy sounds of falling blood, that the valley seemed silent for all but the beast’s breathing, and a low humming from the little girl dancing at the fire. Wondering what sort of girl could be so calm, Nomzamo edged closer.
The beast entered the tiny village, walking raggedly, and bleeding from his many wounds. The girl stopped moving around the fire, but her body was in constant motion, as she approached the beast. She made a ‘coo’ at the black jackal as she reached up to begin to remove spear fragments. After every removal, the little girl gave the wounds a small kiss, and Nomzamo could see previously bleeding wounds immediately staunched. The gargantuan winced when the weapons were removed, and eventually had to lay down for the girl to reach the injuries. Nomzamo was too curious for her own good, and had gotten relatively close at this point.
The black giant sniffed the air, and began to rise, however the little girl put her hand on the black fur, and rose to face Nomzamo. Nomzamo met eyes with the girl, and began to flee back up the hill where she had previously been watching from. As she turned behind to see if the girl had followed, she ran into a small figure, knocking it over, and getting tangled up into it.
She struggled against the figure, as when they were both on the ground they began to grapple. The figure was curiously strong for it’s size, and as Nomzamo lost, she saw the blood-flecked grubby face of a small girl. Her skin was a strange hue that Nomzamo had not seen before, as Nomzamo struggled against the pin the girl examined Nomzamo, and eventually started to lower her head. The girl opened her mouth and drew closer to Nomzamo’s face. The girl’s teeth got visibly closer and closer to Nomzamo’s right eye, and reflexively Nomzamo closed her eyes. She could feel the hot breath of the girl on her eyelid, and felt the girl reposition the pin, freeing up one of her hands. Nomzamo beat at her attacker, but the girl took her fingers and spread Nomzamo’s eyelid opening up Nomzamo’s vision to a descending oval of darkness.
The details of that summer now I no longer remember except, perhaps, like sweet slabs of fresh birthday cake, or also walnuts with the bitter surprise of unremoved shelling bits in the creases. Tastes shocking before swallowed and then forgotten. Cassondra was her name.
“Your hands. They’re so strong, so lively.” She said, half naked.
I was massaging her doughy shoulders, the hard shale bed of muscles beneath the skin, my thumbs torqued down between the blades.
The intricacies of this moment are now, in my memory, gone. Removed maybe. Was she sitting up, rocking forward, as I pressed into her back? Was she lying on my bed, chest down? If so, was I straddling her, my knees bracing either side of her ribcage in a hold? Did I then become erect, as I so often do pinning willing woman down, and could she sense it?
There was no love there between us. There never was. Never. Never enough time for lust to make a chrysalis, to transform and to form it’s inner slink to a butterfly. Never love- I regret that now.
I regret dismissing her so quick. For dismissing the most comforting smell, a lush head of brunette hair, that my nose has ever snuck silent wiffs from. I massage her back, I stoop, I indulge myself in a nose-drunk keg of her smells.
There was never love- I enjoy that now.
She returned from the washroom after swallowing my cum with breath reeking, insultingly, of my hyro-blue Crest mouthwash. How bad did I taste, I wondered, falling asleep ashamed. There was as much love, that is none, as there was engaging conversation. Our walks in the park were a funeral procession of continual bore.
Dating in this town is unavoidable, Chicago, the great lonely snowed in wild cabin. Dating is an institution here, and its participants work their steady way towards becoming the institutionalized, so I have become convinced.
A massage, the blow job, a few rich dinner meals or sun soaked brunch dates, and those many locks of brunette hair that wove ropes around my heart- what else of any friend, any lover, in our minds, will ever really endure?
“Your hands.” She moans. “They’re so strong, so lively.”
No one has ever landed a compliment on me so well.
You smelled better even than the summer I can no longer prove existed.
To the man who loved you first, so natural in ways you find effortlessly beautiful- hulking brunette wisps and whipped lids blinking over nethermost eyes, luring you,
from me, away.
I barely understand this mans allure, having met him nonchalantly over only hurried hellos. To you his heart plays perhaps piano notes like strings humming into the coded center of your vibrating heart. Chomp, you have bitten, your gravity has itself been altered.
Occasionally I witness you in public and it seems now as though you are happy. Shopping the grocer with him, a quick laughing set of eyes linking, sharing the morning car ride to work; even vinegary winter wind is blowing somewhere nice, is it not?
But first it must pass these windows of which I now stare, blowing so capable, so vigorously on its way, howling.
"Journal entry, November second."
Eli mashed the Stop button on the digital recorder and let his hand fall loosely back to his side. He had finally warmed himself by nestling his limbs deep within his mattress’s plush bedding. Beside him, the nightstand, and on it were placed the familiar items. A lamp, a book, chap stick, and a water glass, which left a tiny rectangle spot perfectly sized for his digital recorder to live. It now lay atop the bedding beside his body as he clenched it in his palm. Feeling the thin plastic grate against the inside of his knuckles in a tight grip, he thought of the way some people carry journals and pens, and what those items might mean to the people carrying them.
He thought of wombs and coddled children, and he thought of the special drawers mothers give to their pearls.
He imagined the sanctity of a journal, the holy ground on which pens scotch.
He thought of whiskey flasks on brisk nights, the joy of carrying familiarity on your person, and how flasks, like journals, hug the inside of breast pockets and are shaped just right for secrets.
Above all he thought of ventilators, and iron lungs, and oxygen masks on old faces in hospital wards and all the other gadgets that help people survive for one more day, to just keep them breathing.
With every salvation that journals offer, Eli likewise told everything to his recorder.
Head back against the pillow top, chin to the sheets, he created a new entry. He cleared his throat.
"Hooking the loose ends of a baggy sweater around my raw knuckles, I imagined the dresser top at home were the gloves I had forgotten sat dry and unused. When you bicycle through fifty degree rain in early November, being sideswiped by a speeding vehicle seems effortlessly more attractive than another mile of wet and cold.
Everyone looks at you madly. I must bike with an expression of rage in this weather. I suspect I can feel it too, tempering me, eyes scorning the Earth. To wipe my forehead with an ineffective wet sleeve only rips at the first layer of cold damaged skin upon my brow, and that's when I see them. A fantastic couple in Merino wool sweaters. Dry in their Volvo SUV. Foot heaters, most likely, on medium high. They smile through it all. Another quaint, rainy November night. Saying, 'I just love Chicago in Autumn, don't you?"
Eli took a swig from his water glass without stopping the recording and continued again.
"I once found a tattered Merino wool sweater at the thrift store for five dollars. I spent every day of a week wearing it, just to show it off. I kept asking friends to pull at the back of my collar to check the tag for authenticity, like looking for a serial number or dating code on an old oak RCA Victrola in a pawn shop. We are all the same poor here. you never ask my friends what whiskey they drink because you always figure it's bottom shelf.
It's easy to get sad. Hell, most days go by and if I'm not depressed about something, I feel misplaced. As though on the precipice of disaster, tragedy about to strike. Like in winter, they blast these heaters in shopping center doorways before you exit. A bit of warmth before the frigid cold, but it only makes the chill outside worse.
Yet at the same time, if on any given day, I'm not overjoyed to tears about life's goodness and possibilities and whole heartedness, I feel just as odd. The most minuscule things can trigger my joy. I learn to pick up the pieces of people as they walk. Like small touches I cherish. Breezing past a friend at a party, they will just lightly extend their hand and smile from one room to the next, saying, 'Want another beer, Eli Salinger?" I love my fiends for that. For what they don't realize they do to me.
And that's how I know I'm doing it right. because I've started feeing things again. Like arriving home today, I could feel every nerve ending screaming, pealing off my rain soaked jeans from frozen thighs with cramped hands like paint stripping claws. And I've never been able to describe that before. I am more alive, more aware. More then when I had a car, arriving home warm and dry, and forgetting all the years so easily as they passed me by."
Eli let the recorder fall to the bed and they slept nuzzled there together, side by side.
PART ONE: WHERE THE BURNS BEGIN
“Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host.
But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.”
He still bore scars, livid at his fingertips, from how he had fumbled while lighting his first cigarette.
It had been an accident, his first burn. The chilled air of that morning had scraped his lungs until his voice was raw, and his hands had been shaking—so violently that his fingers stumbled over each other, letting flames sear his skin.
It had hurt, of course, but it had been a good sort of pain. It had blocked the memories of the night before and it had burned out all remaining feeling. It was what Will had needed then, and it was what he needed now.
The thought of what he’d seen just that morning made his heart slam around in his throat. His stomach lurched and twisted and writhed inside of him, an untamed, beastly thing born of his own weakness and disease.
While Will’s hands struggled with the keys to his house, his mind fought to raise walls high enough to keep ragged memories from drowning him.
The accident he had seen on his way to work had been far too familiar. Twisted, misshapen wreckage and contorted figures smothered in their own blood, and the blood of other victims, dragged grimy fingertips through his memory. The images his eyes had absorbed earlier that day had brought snapshots of his accident back within his grasp, and his need for the sweet sickness of the fire had overcome him, smashing him around like a ragdoll for the remainder of the day.
Will wrenched his door open, his hands falling limp to his sides as his bags plummeted to the floor.
The memories were dark, and they consumed him, killing anything and everything else he was capable of feeling. It wouldn’t be long before he sank so far into them that he would forever be lost within their despair. He had never been able to drive them away—only the fire could do that.
Only the fire—and as the flames dragged over his skin and left marks of untempered anger, Will momentarily found refuge from his monster.
He’d been drunk—but far more intoxicated than he was now. In the present moment, things were a little bit blurred and a little bit bright, amplifying and bringing into focus the self-resentment that made his insides churn and his teeth clench. Amid the depths of that night, he had been too drunk to understand any of his own thoughts, too drunk to rationalize, too drunk to know that driving was asking—begging—for a life to be stolen.
When he had woken up in the hospital, he had not known what had happened—not at first. But sluggishly, as the morphine had drained from his damaged body and his consciousness had become cloudless and lucid, he had begun to remember.
A nurse had come in to give him more medication, skirting around the edge of his bed like a cat, and he had asked her, “What happened?”
“You were drunk,” she’d said tersely. He could still recall the unadulterated, toxic disgust in her face. “You got into a car accident.”
He remembered thinking that she would not be looking at him with such an unpolluted hatred unless someone had died.
“How many?” he had croaked. His voice had sounded cracked and worn, like parchment. “Was it my fault?”
The nurse had stared at him, the anger in her face creating lines and frown marks and crevices in her face. She seemed to age several decades in that moment. “Three,” she said, “And yes, it was your fault.”
In the present moment, he lay sprawled on his couch, lazily flicking the lighter on and off and watching the warm glow of the flames as they licked his fingertips. It was a soothing warmth that blistered at his fingers, soft and rather bearable compared to the jarring, knife-like pain that seared through him whenever he cut.
Even now, lying on the couch, he could still hear the peaked sounds of his family rushing into the hospital room he had lain in. They had known it was his fault, and they had not blamed him. He still hated them for that. Uninformed, irrationally, they had leaned over his bedside and told him it’d be okay and that they’d take care of everything, and he wouldn’t have to do any jail time.
These memories weren’t as harsh as the memories of the crash, but they were no less unpleasant. They still fogged his mind, and they still turned the fire inside into a raging inferno, hell-bent on tearing him to jagged little pieces.
And he would let him.
He was determined to be destroyed by his treacherous fiend.
“Pass me a cigarette, would you?” Her voice was astute and had a lilting sound to it, not unlike the rolling of wind off the waves. He didn’t have to pretend to like it. Her face was sharp, her eyes seemed to be dark caverns cut into her face by knife edges. She had an interesting face—not traditionally beautiful, but one that was fascinating to look at, and to explore.
Wordlessly, Will handed over the second last cigarette in his pack to her. “You run out, Keahi?” he asked, drawing in a long breath of smoke.
“I had my last one this morning,” she told him, lighting the cigarette with long, tanned fingers. “I won’t be able to afford any more smokes until I get paid, so I better enjoy this one.” She blinked lazily, like a cat basking in the sun, as she breathed in the smoke, and exhaled.
Will was quick to notice the red, irate marks on the insides of her forearms. Nobody at work had ever dared mention them to her, but Will understood. Her weapon of choice was different than his, but the reality was that they were the same: something had gone horribly wrong, and they were to blame.
Keahi caught him looking. “What’re you staring at?” she asked, her voice sounding incensed beneath the casual tone that only just barely masked it.
Will shrugged. “Your scars,” he said bluntly, and drew in another breath of smoke. “They look a little bit like mine.”
Keahi arched one eyebrow. “Yours?” she inquired, her melodic voice rising and falling rhythmically in pitch.
Will shrugged. “I stopped cutting a while ago. I have different methods, now.”
Keahi glanced at him, and brushed a strand of dark hair from her face. She did not look at him, and it was at this moment that Will realized he had made a mistake.
She had not come to terms with her own destruction, he realized. She had not accepted that she would be the beast to tear her out her own heart. She had not realized that it was she who would be her own demise. In this, she was not like him.
Will knew he was going to die, someday, and likely by his own hand.
It was just a matter of being ready to walk into the fires of hell and embrace the devil’s demons with open arms.
When he arrived home, he lit some more candles and lay on the couch for a while. As the sky grew dark the candles glowed brighter, so did the clarity of his own memory. He always remembered everything at night. It seemed that darkness brought with it a hoard of new details, new sights and smells for him to agonize over, new details to remember from that night.
In the dimness of his home, Will took the last cigarette from his pocket and lit it. He breathed the smoke in and out, wondering absentmindedly if dragons would feel the same burning sensation in their lungs when they reduced their victims to ashes.
Slowly, he became aware of his eyes beginning to drift shut, but not aware enough of the cigarette falling from his fingers and to the carpet.
"No wonder I drink." Perry White reached into the bottom drawer of his desk, pulled out a bottle of rye, good rye, and a small glass and poured himself three fingers of the golden liquid. "Great Cesar’s ghost," he muttered into the glass, "they’re killing me".
"Lois Lane has been taken hostage (third time this year) and, as usual, Clark Kent is nowhere to be found. Why can I never find my so called ace reporter when I need him the most? The early edition is due on the street in an hour and I’ve got nothing for page one. The Daily Planet is going to hell in hand basket. In fact, the whole damned city of Metropolis is going with it. I guess I should have taken that job in Chicago. At least at The Tribune I would be working with Brenda Starr.”
This installment of Finding Your Writer hits close to home for me. Dennis is an author of light, fizzing, and youthful novels concerning time travel and murder. Dennis is also my father.
His novels, boarding pastism surreal science fiction, are far less concerned, to my joy, in presenting a grand addition to human literature, as they are in indulging us with a revelation into the author himself. Reading him, the feel is unmistakable that Dennis writes in order to understand himself better, a long tradition of artists grappling with their craft. Dennis writes to find his voice, to wrestle out distinctions of a blurry past, and as a means to self discovery. Biased or not, I love him for that; I believe in him for that.
The day he announced to our family he was publishing a novel, we had questions. Could he write? Did he always have an interest in literature? I remember his joy of journaling long ago, but here it was, a stack of fresh and glossy novels laid open in brown boxes at the foot of his stairs. It felt like Christmas. I reach in to grab one. It was this exact moment, in my confusion and wonder, that I felt I knew the very least about my father, that I had a world yet to know, and the day my copy arrived in the mail I began by reading though the inscription into chapter one, into a whole new insight of him, of me, of us.
Amongst other similarly cerebral novels he has written, for his work in Steampunk Alice, Dennis’s take on Alice in Wonderland, a naive young Alice is whisked away to a mechanical, leather strapped, 1900’s industrial revolution styled, Steam Punk alternate universe, and must find her way back home. Campy, fun, thrilling and brilliant. What else can I say?
Now, will Dennis write the next great American novella? Not in the next few years I suspect, but this was never the point for him, for me, and for my family.
Dennis writes novels of exploration into the human condition simply by writing himself, his fears, his joys and interests into each book. And so I have gotten to know him, that is, the universe expanding in his head, his heart, more than I ever have been able, as neither kid nor adult, and that is the true point.
My father writes.
Writing to find ones self.
Because perhaps, in an unfinished world, creation is far less about the art we sculpt, and more about the men we become at the kiln.
When we brought Dorian home for the first night, I had trouble deciphering who was more frightened in our group, him or Maura or me. Motherhood is not something to take lightly, and responsibility hung thick in the apartment, having now been prepped and readied for our new Dachshund puppy. And there was no way of predicting that this little lopsided walking dog log would be such a catalyst for the monumental change coming, and the inevitable damage that followed.
After peeing everywhere but his designated training pad, Dorian slept smoothly the first night through, nestled softly between Maura’s inner thighs, bleating. I think Maura cried a little too.
For the next two weeks, Dorian was a phantom in the house. I would search under tables and chairs and couch cushions with little success. And when he was finally found, like a bird from an open cage, he would bolt away into the bedroom closet, hopping up one shelving tier, laying shaking, scared, and immobile atop Maura’s sweater pile. “What a pathetic mess.” I would stand there, hands to hips, watching this tiny Dachshund make a god damned fool of himself, probably as well, pissing on my favorite hoodie.
Eventually, we became buddies. I would steal his pink rubber toy, vaguely moist with odorless saliva, and we’d chase each other about the house. Dropping to the floor I could hide my head in my knees and he would bury the sharp edge of his nose into the flank my thigh, searching for a face to commence licking, like he would some instinctual badger meant to be snoop out of some hole. I loved him. His little body, his little quirks. In the morning he could be found at my feet on the shower floor, soaking wet and shaking, but just wanting to be near me. ”It’s alright buddy,” I would tell him, and I would mean it completely. I have, in my life, been on the shower floor in such a way over people too.
Maura never took my last name after the marriage. I still do not know why. Like little foreboding clues of our future I guess, fate is a juggernaut when it runs, and in marriage it is always running towards you, instead of away. When we fought, she took to slinging her wedding ring at me from across the hardwood room, screaming. I once had wine thrown in my face. Frightening fights from frightening people, that is, the type of people we became around one another. She would drink to yell at me; I would drink to not listen. The juggernaut grew near. Sometimes she would say, “When I leave you, I’m taking the dog, just so you’re not surprised when I do. He’s mine, ya know.” The words would roll from her mouth so casually, as if, packed up in moving boxes within herself, there she already lay, along side her heart and her possessions, so far away from my needs.
I do not have a child, but there in Dorian I started to understand the love of small things that are able to love you back. Dorian was strong, and independent, never requiring the leash. But in him there was tenderness too, a codependency I recognized within myself. A need of touch, of love’s daily bread- the promise of I Do, without the anxiety of it. And as Maura and I drifted, we both saught solice in this little Dachshund, who’s simplicity and child like love could never imagine dividing himself in half over us, as Maura and I ourselves did.
I miss Dorian. I miss having a dog. Simply that. I miss having that routine example of what love might be like without fear, without greed, without even a scrap of remorse. A love willing to go dripping wet and sopping into whatever world as long as it keeps them near.
“I really like it here.”
“I know you do,” he replied. “I like it, too.”
“The last time I came here, I was happy—you wouldn’t believe it. Going back was…” I looked away from his knowing gaze and snorted bitterly as I recalled leaving the only place I considered home. “I felt really—everything was just really different and…wrong,” I finished meekly.
I thought he stopped listening after my snort which was why, when I looked back, I was startled to see him still focused on me so intently. For three breathes, he said nothing—just watched me the way you’d watch someone after they describe to you every wax and wane of the calla lily they keep locked away in their heart, every curve of its single petal, every kind of bow to its bending stem.
“I see it in you,” he said and before I could ask him what it is he saw, he was already telling me. “The sadness, I see it in your eyes. The struggle to—“
“—happiness takes work,“ I interrupted defensively, trying to justify what he saw.
“—I know it does. But, you know, happiness isn’t about the place you’re in.” He tapped my temple gently with his index and middle fingers before saying, “It’s in here.”