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Charmed I'm Sure [novel excerpt]

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The life and presumed death of an imaginary philosopher

If I was where I would be

Then I’d be where I am now

Here I am where I must be

Where I’d be I can not

I had always considered myself to be trapped in Glennen Warrie but I’ve since come to understand that to say I was trapped is incorrect. If I was trapped, then there was some period where it was not my original environment and, prior to becoming stuck, I had lived in a state of comparative freedom. This is not true. I was born there and for that reason it could be said that I was part of it. It’s still there, in the centre of opal country. That’s all I’ve ever really learnt to say about the place, just part of opal country. It’s a dirty sprawl of brown and yellow with the exception of the golf course; a lush areola between thin unpaved roads and corrugated roofs. Any history that’s there is quite some way beneath the ground.

I had gotten through twelve years of schooling. A small feat in the eyes of most but considering the tendencies of others my age, it was rare to not become engulfed by a trade or apprenticeship by age sixteen. It was the vague idea of escape that motivated me. I seemed to be the only one who wasn’t proud of the endless wastes, the gimmicky caverns that dotted the town between tourist trap road signs and hunched houses. I worked nights and saved so I could move to Adelaide. The town existed purely because of the opals in the surrounding land and without it, there would be no redeeming the cruel vacancy of life and waste. It had grown since the beginning, we had an airport now and even a hospital, but it felt more like a sequence of malignancy than true progress. The day’s heat was the worst of it. The uninterrupted horizon provided relief in the form of cold plain nights but all the same, I’ve never since been able to tolerate anyone complaining about the weather.

There were two things in the town that lived beyond eleven thirty. First and least relevant to my story, one of the two pubs remained unofficially open until two or as best as I can tell. The town, after all, provided steady motivation for alcoholism. The other was the petrol stations. Trucks ripped through the place at all times and their frequency forced such necessity. I spent my weeknights behind the counter of one of the oldest stations in town. It was the closest to the highway with its sparse, solar powered lamps that penetrated the unfazed plains but its four solitary bowsers and low resting shelters often forced many rigs to bypass it entirely. We offered the nomadic behemoths one comfort the franchise-engulfed competitors did not: A small diner that provided simplistic but hot meals. These were hungry beasts and the bain-marie pie would not suffice. Most of them would drive across the town outskirts from the first turn off onto a road that ran adjacent to the highway and stop at one of the major stations for fuel, then they would drive on to our station, park their hulking engines in the great expanse of red dirt that we offered in the cove of green corrugated fencing and come in to eat. That’s how the money was made; not in the necessity of fuel, but the hunger of the remaining human element.

It was always quietest at two in the morning. I would be on until seven with nothing to do. I did not mind, I spent most time alone even when with others. It gave me time to rest my anxiety and to consider. There were always several trucks pulled up in the rudimentary parking lot for the night. You could usually see a stomach poking into view through the windshield, the occupant lying on their back across the seats like a flannel clad beached animal. The cook, a paunchy, middle aged crust of a man, sat alone in the kitchen of the adjoining feeder with a radio and a newspaper. He rarely spoke but given my minimal contact with him, it had never been a problem. As far as I understood, he was the son of the owner. The catalystic night had not been unusual to this extent. The station was completely vacant. My neon and white jurisdiction of snack-food aisles and dusty windows, the welcoming dining hall of red-and-white linoleum tables and brown vinyl chairs hung in my vision with temporal eeriness and the craning necks of the bowsers all stood still. The only thing that marked it as an extraordinary evening was the absence of slumbering truckies. Only one truck sat away from the light of the station and its driver was not visible. I had seen it pull up some hours before but had not seen the driver come in and lost track of the movements since. It was an unnecessary detail, but the monotony of the night morphed it into an event of some small note.

The stool had come loose in my booth and, weighing up the fact that from the station windows I would be able to see a vehicle approaching from any direction long before they saw me, I stepped out, took a newspaper from the rack and pulled up a seat in the diner. The owner’s son lay in some kind of exclusive preoccupation in the kitchen. He seemed almost in stasis the way he sat in an identical position every night, craned slightly towards the radio, the newspaper clutched in his fat hands, the pages unchanging, the face registering nothing. He could have been sleeping and in all likelihood was. I was half an hour into the paper when the door of the eatery swung open. I had not seen anyone approaching in my peripheral and swung around to look for a parked vehicle. There was none and, looking at the figure in the doorway, identified him immediately as the driver of the parked truck.

He nodded at me, unthreatening, unassuming. A big guy, but not particularly imposing. He wore the trademarks of a truck driver; dirty flannelette, faded department store t-shirt, bad hair, worse beard, but despite a total absence of any reason for the fact, he did not exude the same dutiful and inapproachable air of his kind.  He looked at me with his curious eyes. They appeared two dimensional but the way he looked at me made me feel as though he had spoken to many mes across so many towns and now accepted us all as knowing him as if we were linked by a singular consciousness. The absurdity of such a thing aside, the familiarity put me at great ease.

“You guys doin’ food still?”

“Yeah.” I replied. “All night.”

“It’s morning.”

“Well, we do food all the time.”

He nodded, satisfied with my response, and took a seat at the same table as me.

“You got a menu?” he asked.

“Well, it’s all up on that board.”

He looked across at the menu above the kitchen entrance for a moment and asked for a toasted sandwich. It was not done with thanks, but his tone exuded dry graciousness. I got up to tell the cook but as I walked towards the kitchen, the truckie spoke again.

“Don’t bother. He’s asleep.”

I wheeled around. The bizarre comfort had given away rapidly to uneasiness. He had only been there for a minute.

“How did you know?” I asked.

“Well you can make a toasted sandwich, can’t ya?”

I nodded, too unsettled to retort, and walked behind the serving area. The toasted sandwich maker was already out and while I was nervous, I still did not feel particularly scared by the man and felt no need to wake the cook. There was also a partial concern that the truckie would somehow know if I attempted to rouse him and, still unclear of the stranger’s intent, did not wish to find out what it would cause him to do.

I stepped into the kitchen, retrieved cheese, a tomato and packaged ham from the fridge, careful not to disturb the cook in fear that the truck driver would misunderstand the situation for me having woken him intentionally. I don’t remember it being the case but thinking back upon my actions, I may have been more terrified than I am conveying to you.

I placed the sandwich in the toaster and decided to make conversation while we waited. The silence was fuelling my fear and I believed that if I found out more about him, my growing paranoia would be extinguished.

“Where are you going?” I asked him, my unsurity causing the words to become mumbled.

“I’m on a mercy mission.”

“How does that work?”

He grinned, looking ahead.

“I’m here to save you.”

I involuntarily took a step backwards.

“Oh, don’t go so red!” he exclaimed, still not looking at me. “You work in a Glennen Warrie petrol station and you’ve never had a truckie try to fuck with your head?” His expression remained unchanged until he muttered “You’re going to burn my sandwich.”

It wasn’t even close to done, but given the clarity of his instruction, I obeyed. I walked across to him, the sandwich shuffling uncomfortably on the shaking plate.

“Perfect.” He muttered. “Take a seat.”

I obeyed almost automatically. I felt total disbelief towards the passive power of the man. He had the air of a gentleman in an old advertisement, like there was some unspoken but diligent moral code operating behind his sunburnt face and red-streaked beard.

“So, I’ve got fourteen hours from now to get to Adelaide to make a pickup and then I’m heading West. Since It’s going to take me just under ten to make it there, I figured I’d stop for something to eat and get a couple hours rest before doing the last leg. Oh, and of course, I intended to meet your lovely self.” He winked and it took an additional second for his eye to reappear under his creased eyelids.

“So” he said “Now you know where I’m heading. Where are you going?”

“I’m here.” I replied.

“So you’re going to be in Glennen Warrie forever?”

“No, I didn’t realise you meant- I’m trying to save up so I can leave.”

“And that’s why you’re working here?” He asked. I nodded and he let out a happy chuckle.

“You’ll never get enough before you get trapped.” He said. “You stay here any longer, you might as well kill yourself and fly away as a locust.” As he said this, he raised one half of the sandwich to his mouth and fit most of it in. He bit down and the remaining corner tumbled down his shirt front and disappeared somewhere beneath the table. I laughed uncomfortably, unsure how to react to his comment or his behaviour.

“Well,” he resumed, his mouth still full and the single word almost incomprehensible through his meal “What do you want to do when you get away?”

“I’m not sure.” I told him. “I think maybe I’ll study. I’ll find somewhere to live in Adelaide and go study.”

“Why haven’t you done that already?”

“I couldn’t afford to go away when I finished school. I mean, I didn’t do well, but I did well enough for university to be an option. I just, I wasn’t sure what I wanted and I still don’t think I’ve thought about it enough but I know I can’t stay here. That’s why I’m working.”

“You know there’s an easier option.” He said, a food-speckled smile forming on his face.

“Like what?”

He picked up the other half of the sandwich and forced it into his face in a manner similar to the first.

“New question.” He announced. “Got a boyfriend?”

“No. I had this one friend I liked but, well, it’s boring. I guess I was just in the friendzone.”

“Whenever I hear ‘friend zone’, I think about the Twilight Zone. And then I think about the fact that Rod Serling and I were always uncomfortably close.”

He paused.

“I used to have a girl. You know, they say you can’t always get what you want, but she took a fair share!” he concealed a staccato ‘fffuck’ underneath a forced chuckle.

An hour passed and the truckie’s speech became more and more fractured. It was soon that I realised perhaps he was not a man at all but an idea I’d carried with me for years. I had simply been waiting for it to take form, walk in, and demand answers from me. With that, I begun speaking as freely and honestly as my idea did. No car or wandering thing had bothered us and so we stepped out and sat on the diner curb smoking his rolled cigarettes. “Right” the trucker piped up after licking and sealing a second one for himself. “So you know what you want to do, but what do you want?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, there are things, vague as they are, that you want to achieve. Study and fucking all that, but why do you want to do what you want to do?”

I paused for a moment.

“I know that we are totally insignificant and all that. I know that constantly trying to pursue an exciting life or some great purpose is just generating a hunger for fictional nourishment. But every now and again, I get this feeling that there is great potential for significance, some overwhelming reason for my living. Logic and basic rationality always kick back in but I think what I feel in that moment, that’s what I really want. Not the promise of eternity, but to feel the founded belief that it’s obtainable, that aspiration isn’t completely redundant and that, if I begin to believe everything I tell other people about myself, It’s not just a symptom of sinking desperately into denial.”

He nodded, very small movements. “One of the better answers.” Then he took a long drag which nearly consumed the remaining half of his cigarette, brought the second one up to his lips and lit it with the ashy remains of the first.

“You know” he said. “I was thinking about how pointless travel is. I mean, travel just for the sake of it. Even escapism isn’t a real reason. It’s all just…doing something, you know? You might as well jack off, it’s achieving the same thing. What, you experience a culture or fucking something? Fuck that. I travel for work. It’s in a truck and I’ve never left the country, but at least it’s got a fucking purpose. You, you’ve got purpose to your travel. You’re not just one of those weak cunts that wanna go somewhere so they can use ‘I’ve been there, I know’ in every fucking argument. Last time someone said that, I shot the cunt. Didn’t kill him, but he’ll never talk to me about Africa again.” and then he laughed and laughed until it bent upwards into a long, happy squeal.

At four, I mentioned that trucks would turn up for breakfast at around five. His reply was simply “Then you’ve still got time.”

“Time for what?”

“Do you remember when I told you there’s an easier way to get away than working here?”

“I- yeah.”

He leapt up, the fat of his body looking as if it reluctantly followed the remainder of him, a dancing skeleton with an amoebic shell, and walked towards his truck. He paused only once to stub his cigarette out as he walked beneath the shelter of the bowsers. I couldn’t see him in the partial darkness outside of the cover of the station but when he returned, I noticed the difference right away. He walked upright, the lazy trucker gait gone and in his hands, he clutched a shotgun. I began scrambling to my feet but he swiftly swung the gun up, the stock sitting firmly in the pouch of his shoulder. “Stay the fuck down!” he shouted. I stopped mid motion. “Ground!” he yelled. “Get on the ground now!” I crawled, belly forward, onto the cold concrete. He walked past me. “Don’t say a fucking thing” he said, pointing the rifle back in my face. “Don’t move. Don’t speak.”

When he returned, the gun was dangling in his right arm. In his left, he clutched the cash drawer from the register. “C’mon” he motioned with the gun, half pointing it at me. “Thing isn’t even loaded. Make a show for the cameras.” I didn’t understand what he was talking about. Convinced now that he was insane, I decided it would be better to remain on the ground. “Fucking move!” he shouted and brought it up so the barrel was in line with my head. I obeyed, getting up and walking, guided by the empty gun (still intimidating with its gaping black mouth), towards the truck.

And just like that, I was in the cabin with him as we rolled slowly away from the lights and concrete and turned onto the highway. The gun was in my lap balanced on top of the money. “I’m a bad person.” He said. “But I use my bad for good. It doesn’t cancel it out, but I’m sure it means something. Hell, everything means something. Even if you try to make something mean nothing, it means you tried to make it mean nothing and that means something. Shit’s fucked.”

He wound down the window and begun rolling another cigarette in his lap, keeping the wheel steady with his knees, his eyes remaining fixed forward. “I guess I probably scared you with the song and dance. I forget myself sometimes.” I didn’t reply. Still shaken, still unsure. “They won’t find me, you know that. And now you won’t be stuck there any longer. There’s enough money in that till to get you started, I bet. Yeah, ten hours, maybe longer, and you’ll thank me for doing this.” And the lamps against the road grew more and more infrequent until we descended into the darkness of the plains with only the thin cone of light from the headlines flecked with the roaring bodies of insects and rushed details of gravel to indicate we were even moving. We were alone and he could do anything to me. Then again, so could I.

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dial tone

You called today. Aware of my self-consciousness and discomfort in holding phones to my ear and speaking into them to a not-visible face on the other side of the line, you chose the perfect time to do so. It was three minutes after six, that quiet time when the sun drops low and simmers lazily just behind the skyline view outside my window. It was only a few moments after I had already settled comfortably on the left side my loveseat-sans-toi, holding a chipped mug of tea in my right hand, just after the birds quiet down in anticipation of the evening — the perfect time to call.

Your call sent my phone into a fit of shivers in its cradle. One ring, two rings, three — I picked it up and held it to my left ear, then switched to my right, then returned it to my left. Your thick voice filled its chamber, and you started the conversation off without saying hello — the way I preferred to begin phone calls — but instead with a brief story of how you tripped on your bootlaces that morning while walking up the stairs to your apartment (the elevators were down for maintenance) just as a pretty lady was descending them. I responded with a chuckle and asked, “How pretty?”

You launched into a series of short, unsure descriptions: “she had these slender legs but walked with a slight limp, a scar above her left ankle” — “a speck of paint (or a birthmark?) on her right wrist” — “she smiled at me, her eyes were brown hazel gold chestnut, oh, her hair was chestnut” — “tickle-me-pink (or was it desert rose?) nail polish.”

“Desert rose? That’s my favorite,” I cut in, stopping you short, gazing down at the cloud-shaped birthmark on my own right wrist, holding my hand out in the light of the setting sun to watch the last rays trickle through my fingers.

You continued on with the mostly one-sided conversation and I listened to every other word and eventually none of them at all, just immersing myself in the way you formed those clipped phrases and the way you described everything (from the color of the gum you stepped on to the size of your Caesar salad to the guesstimated age of the newspaper vendor to the number of dimples on the grocer’s face).

When you finally took a gulp of air, I knew you had run out of things to say, but I waited a moment longer to hear you breathe through the receiver, noticing how every third or fourth breath you made this subtle slurping sound as you licked the dry roof of your mouth. I wet my lips with my now-cold tea and imagined your chapped ones. I heard a rustling of clothes (or bedsheets?) as you shifted a little in your seat.

By now the sun had gone, tired of your endless spew of words, leaving the sky a cobalt softly lined with stardust. We said our goodbyes and hung up. I smiled, a second too late, though I knew you wouldn’t have heard it through the dial tone.

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Shades of Sleep

Sleep....

That bloody handmaiden with toiling fingers....

heartlessly black and unholy.

A miscreated changeling fouling screams...

my screams.

Those never heard.

 

A clutch to life held by will alone.

 

Strange glimmers

revealing unearthly collusions of scent and sound....

of harm and every threat.

 

Destroyed and devoured by a thousand claws.

Ripping and tearing and grinning....

Always grinning.

 

The telling of the fall.

My fall....

from hope, home, love...

Into the obliterated cavity of

my own grave.

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Your Muses Never Asked

First, I told her that I loved her. She understood the words, but not the meaning.

So I wrote her a song. I pored over rhymes, beat myself bloody to work up the rhythm. I borrowed what I could, stole what I needed, and I put my heart and soul into bridges, choruses, and verse.

She couldn't quite make out the words and made up her own meaning.

So I wrote poetry. I found the perfect metaphor, a fitting framework. I made a romance and an abuse of form, grammar, and imagery. I confused a couple of similes, but that was intentional.

Love never quite makes sense, does it? She said that it was beautiful, but wasn't about her.

So I wrote a novel. I made cookie-cutter frames of us and threw them into white space. I invented wars and high stakes, made a fiction out the idea that there's always a conflict, always a rise, always a climax that we share together...then an afterglow. Then an epilogue. And always a lesson.

She wept and understood the meaning, but the words didn't reflect us anymore.

So I just kissed her. She slapped me, as she should, and then she walked away.

You can't make someone understand a goddamned thing.

But it's worth it when you don't have to.

(Prompt: from twcwelcomecenter

That about sums up who I've been for the last couple of years.

(c) 2013 Lawerence Hawkins

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impressions

Fire extinguishes humming ocean, and cloud feeds writhing flame. Stars breathe again, and fill expanding lungs with pleasant white fumes. Wait. Stop. Blink. Collect your facts and history. Check them off, fold them up, blow a kiss, and let them burn.

“This is the edge of the earth, you know,” no one says, and wraps their cold arms around your waist from miles away and years ago. You shudder further into the touch you cannot feel, all trembling passionless bones in hot tissue, looking on.

“I should have buried them,” you decide, and of course it’s too late. No one smiles against your neck and kisses it.

“It doesn’t matter. It’s all dying.”

The stars nod. They blow hot smoke and ash at your feet, softening the earth to a bubbling, boiling paste. Fire extinguishes deafening, screaming ocean, and you begin to sink and dissolve.

And so, your world is ending. Are you frightened? Close your eyes. Think of no one. Disappear.

“Are you ready to know what nothing tastes like?”

Your body blends with the earth. “Yes. Stay with me?”

“Always. Never,” isn’t said.

There’s nothing left.

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The River and the Ocean

The river bled into the ocean. I had a lifetime of supplies, or so I thought, and I was right.

I'd filled my deck to bursting with the fruit of fevered memories - the heat of joy, the chills of well-remembered sorrows. I'd packed in and preserved them in songs and poetry, in written words and water-proof recordings. I filled my drums and my barrels with the waters of wisdom - piss-poor decisions and the tears that follow after. Life had left me all too ready to survive.

I would not hunger. I would not thirst. The ocean lay before me and the current led me on.

I had ways to keep myself in health. I burned away the bloat of easy living with the weight of harder habits. The silence of an open day turned to the music of a metamorphosis. When you can't sing, grow. When you can't speak, grow. When you can't breathe? Grow. When you can't think? Grow and grow, because tomorrow is another day. And it is. Another day. Then another.

Eat. Drink. Read. Remember. Always grow. The ocean lay before me and the current led me on.

I had ways to keep my mind in focus. I honed my silver tongue and polished it with wax from honeyed words. I told myself new stories. I made fantasies from memories, with wild flavors you almost wouldn't believe. I told the clouds tales until I wrung loose rain. I told the sun secrets until night fell into my arms. I made seasons turn from too much purple prose and cheap, bruised imagery. Sometimes, after all, purple's a fine color. Sometimes, after all, the cheap blow sticks.

I made a thousand words, new foods to savor, new drinks to sate me. I spoke until I understood.

The only word that didn't work was 'shore'.

The stories rose in wonder, but no climax ever came.

The ocean had never promised me an ending. It just lay before me as the current led me on. 

In the end, I didn't drown so much as dive.

See? Sometimes the cheap blow sticks. Or does it?

  Prompt: Anonymous asked you:

Write about your biggest fear.

That...wasn't fun to write. Back to the genre July tomorrow!

(c) 2013 Lawerence Hawkins

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Laurel

I’m playing badminton with my cousins on a muggy summer evening thick with the sound of crickets and cicadas and blue jays when it hits me. I want to sit down.

“Are you ok?” Candy asks me.

“I’ll be fine,” I say, and sit down on the front steps. I put my racket down and watch her throw the birdie into the air and hit it with an exaggerated grunt. She puts too much strength into the swing and the birdie sails over Denver’s head.

“Zero,” he says.

“Let’s see if we can get up to thirty this time,” Candy says. “Are you sure you don’t want to play?”

“I think I’ll pass this round,” I say. I watch them bat the birdie, counting back and forth.

“One!”

“Two!”

“Three!”

And it hits me again, this strange feeling of contentment, of happiness. I can tell tonight is perfect, even though it’s hot as hell and maybe a bit muggier. Even though it’s going to be even hotter in the morning.

We are old enough now not to fight about who gets the pink racket and about whether or not Denver gets to play, too. We are old enough now to have children of our own and watch them grow in the shadow of the same house we grew up in. We are old enough now to realize that we aren’t children anymore, that moments like this, that make us remember summer days five, seven, thirteen years ago, are few and far between. I don’t know if Candy and Denver feel the same way, if they’re praying just as hard as I am that it never ends, that somehow the monotony will suck us down and back in time. Or if they aren’t thinking about things so hard. If maybe they’re just happy tonight.

“It’s your turn!” Denver says, chucking a racket at me. I laugh and catch it before it smacks me in the face.

“Two against one?” Candy asks.

“Just like always,” I say, smiling. She gives me the birdie.

I throw it into the air and swing.

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The Sad House

We live in a house rued with chaos and full of damaged miscellany belonging to broken people. Everything we touch and own is both mortal and doomed: game systems nonfunctioning and doors broken and unexplainable dents in the wall. Sometimes the light bulbs shatter or an iPod shuts offs permanently or the children stomp on laptops. Movies get scratched and will skip if you press play and wires are scissored and buttons jammed. Beds no longer hold up, knobs are wobbly and someone always drops the whole roll of toilet paper in the toilet. My mother locks the fridge with a chain so we’ll have food to eat. And for god sakes, if you love something, don’t leave it unattended.  

            Yet somehow we have learned to coexist with the abjection that rives at our sanity. As the days pass, we continue to outlast our possessions, to dodge the same fate of ruin that other items here have succumbed to, will continue to succumb to. It is not just inanimate objects at risk but all things as a whole.

            It’s not a fact you realize immediately. The house looks like any other on the outside. Paint chipping and a bare flower tree on the front lawn and lots of bottles stacked and bagged in the backyard, because my grandmother sells them. Sometimes my grandmother brings in discarded items, old and broken things, many of them useless, and it all seems to pile up, with us unable to start fresh in the midst of all these old woes, and at night you hear clicking and scratching inside the walls, not rodents but old selves begging to be let out.

            Our backyard is bigger than most, an attribute rare of many houses considering it’s New York, but our grass doesn’t grow and mostly the dirt looks dehydrated and barren and the concrete used to be cracked until we fixed that. A lot of weeds mob along the gates and my mother tries to grow tomatoes or carrots but those never get very big, so she brings in plants to try and lighten the atmosphere. “I don’t want to harbor other people’s agonies,” she says, when she goes on a cleaning binge to try and make things feel good. Everything is swept and scrubbed and the plants are showered with attention in hopes they’ll perk up and lend us some life. She talks to them and tends to them and waters them diligently, but the plants always die. I don’t think it’s any fault of hers; this just isn’t the kind of place to try and foster life. And so, instead of greenery to make the house seem more inviting, we kind of just have these oversized wilting leaves hanging around.

            Eventually she gives up and buys vases of fake flowers instead, that look blooming and fresh all year long but somewhat stale. Sometimes looking at them reminds me of my mother wiping the table one morning, muttering, “Happy anniversary, my foot.”

            “But Daddy brought you flowers.” I nodded at the bouquet on conceited center display.

            “So what?” she said, frowning. “He’s not here, is he? He buys some flowers and they look nice, but what use is that? What meaning do they have if he leaves as soon as he brings them and in two days they’re already drooping? Flowers aren’t gifts. It’s just money to waste.” She sighs.

            I sigh, too.

 

            Inside, the chairs askew or a portrait uneven and things on the floor and nothing to eat and televisions blaring. In the hallway, mountains of shoes scattered on the floor with no foot to match and big buckets of unread junk mail and bags of things we don’t need (“but eventually they’ll be useful,” Madre insists). There are piles of: dishes in the sink, clean and unclean clothes in large heaps downstairs; some smell like fabric softener and others murk in grim, stinking corners. Only bill collectors call to say hello and I’ve been reading last week’s newspaper without even realizing it and my mother sits in the den trying to decipher the puzzle of the lottery so that maybe today will be the day she wins.

            Downstairs always smells like smoke because my father has a room for his cigarettes even though he said he would stop and we’ve begged him to quit but we are only daughters, and the floor is cold in the winter so you have to wear two pairs of socks and two pants and five shirts and a sweater and some gloves. The cold is unbearable. Everyone hovers by the radiator or the electronic fire place and drinks hot chocolate until we’re out of clean cups and we’re still head to toe in goose bumps even so.

            “Are you okay?”

            The house feels oppressive at times. On certain days you are so caged in by the noise—where all the cohabitants seem to be bulging, ubiquitous manifestations of pollution, clogging the space with anger and tension. The washing machine in the basement rattles and violently shuffles all day long spitting clothes out, taking them in, rinse and repeat. We keep: changing outfits, faces, trying to look good or right and it’s so difficult for us. Everyone screams at each other, whether it’s to not change the channel or to use the computer or don’t eat the last snack, who was it—not me! You’re lying! I hate you!—and then crying, crying, always somebody fighting or hurt and it’s so bad and you misbehaved in school or you’re late going because what is even the point and everything is useless and everything hurts so we keep crying in the sad house, we keep crying until we don’t know why we feel anymore.

            “I’m just tired.”

            “You’re always tired. All you do is sleep.”

            Our gloom lives among us as an unseen presence, silent and passive, a concentration of melancholia that strokes our cheeks goodnight. Melancholia sits down to dinner but doesn’t touch the plate. Melancholia makes the food taste wrong and turns the hot shower water lukewarm to cold, and is responsible for restless nights and tells us we are worthless. We agree with Melancholia when he advises we argue amongst ourselves or cry long hours in bed or throw tantrums. We thank Melancholia for taking away our control and making victims out of us. He has given us our fractured dispositions—my tears and I are grateful, and my sister’s panic attacks are a blessing, and my restive brothers are so fortunate to have Melancholia know our mother well enough to strike her with bouts of irritability and dissatisfaction until she’s too fed up to bother managing them or us. Melancholia sleeps besides me and hogs the covers. He watches us, always and carelessly. I cannot recall how long he has resided here, but I cannot recall how life went without him.

            This is why everyone takes as long as they can to come home. Sometimes coming I take the long way or miss my stop on purpose and do whatever I can to distill my arrival. If there is ever an open invitation to go anywhere else, to do anything else, I am available. I am ready. I wish the train ride was longer, though. I get home too soon.

            “I know. I’m going to lie down.”

            “You don’t want any dinner? It’s almost done.”

            “Not really. I’m not hungry.”

            Always last to walk in is Father in the evenings with his suitcase, always on the phone, talking to a client or company or family or anyone but us. Just a few minutes before he comes in, Madre leaves for work, and if you are like me you’re always the first to kiss her goodbye just in case. After she’s closed the door and locked it behind her, you can stand there for a minute and smell the ephemeral whiffs of her perfume.

            “Are you sure?”

            I don’t see much of my father because I’m usually upstairs playing this game where I pretend I’m an only child. It involves closing the door and blasting music and fooling around on my cell phone instead of doing homework. Sometimes I wonder why have phones when no one calls or no cares and I’m always so tired. Too tired to talk or to write and I come here to cry because I know this is the best place for it. It’s hard to feel good on the inside; the house is so heavy with sad, all my tears are here, and I am so overwhelmed.

            “I’m fine. Goodnight.”

            In my room, which has two windows, not enough light shines in. The bedroom is too small and cluttered with unread books and incomplete journals. I scatter my clothes wherever they land once taken off.  I try to keep comfortable. Often relaxing involves stripping down until you’re nothing but your skin. After that, everything kind of stops and you just have to breathe slow even if the air feeds you dust instead of oxygen. You walk in and the world outside—its breeze and freedom dead here. There are crumbs everywhere. The bed is unmade. The carpet has not been swept in days. Melancholia doesn’t care, and gladly seeps into the mattress and pillow where I lay to rest my mind and body as I try to still the spinning inside of me, and for a brief moment there is solace, short-lived but welcome. And in the twilight, the curtains flutter not with bright wind but little gusts desperate and forced, like dry heaves from the mouth of a cloud.

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She glimpsed at an empty glass around 11:00 pm. I’m drinking too fast again she thought. It was only yesterday that she found pieces of herself written in napkins and tissues across a strange place. She waved her finger in the air to signal the barkeep for another glass.

She was never a person for conversations; each time a guy walked up to her, she never as muched moved her eyes or lifted a finger.

She sat alone, stirred her scotch and soda and made whirlpools from tiny ice cubes just for the fun of it.
She liked the taste as the burn crawled through her throat as if she drank fire to cough out smoke.

She took a look down again at 11:11 
pm and she wished for her glass to fill itself up. But she knew she had to call it a night.

She thought of him doing the same thing. Probably, unlikely true. Yet she stood up and went home.

The taste of her victory lingered in her lips. She’ll probably, unlikely be back again tomorrow.

There is a war to withstand. A battle yet to be waged.