Tag Archives: fiction

Lunchtime

The mid-March weather was crisp and cool, but the sun was shining strong enough that you could get away with a light jacket, so I put on my favorite armor, a grey Dickies Eisenhower that I got back in my punk rock days, before I sold out and became a poorly paid private investigator. I had dressed it up with patches of all the founding fathers — Black Flag, Minor Threat, Op Ivy, Aus-Rotten though I never even listened to that shit, DK, and of course the presidential crest of Johnny, Joey, DeeDee, and Tommy. It was a nice reminder of where I’d come from — maybe how far I’d come since then — and also made me look tough when I was working a case.

The changing seasons also did a number on my bad knee, so I grabbed the shillelagh that I used for a walking stick. It was my da’s from his time with the Irish Guard. He’d tried to train me in bataireacht when I was younger, but when you’re twelve years old there are few things sound as lame as ancient Irish stick fighting. I realized that he would’ve retired this year if he were still alive. I wondered how that worked for the Good People on account of they didn’t really age.

The air outside smelled like shit and sodium and made me strangely nostalgic for The Short Bus, the old tour van that we had when I was playing in The Invisibles. It was actually a converted Type A school bus, so the name was still accurate, if terribly offensive. That old clunker ran on diesel, but for just a few hundred bucks, we made it work with old recycled cooking oil that we got from Chinese restaurants. That’s how I knew Yan, the guy who owned the building where my office and ran the restaurant downstairs. Apparently waste disposal costs a lot of money when you’re frying up that much pickled dog meat or whatever, so we did him a favor and took it off his hands for free. We were kind of a Lifetime-esque hardcore time, and of course we were all vegans at the time. We thought we were stickin’ it to the man and fighting back against oil corporations. Of course, none of us seemed to mind that we were using animal fat to run our van. Or that we were making fun of kids with special needs.

Looking back, that was a very dark time in my life.

I headed east up Essex Street towards the Common, past the cracking roads and crumbling buildings that stood adjacent to the luxury condos that had spread like a virus through the heart of downtown Boston. Gentrification was a weird and wicked beast. I saw Eunice at the intersection of Chauncy and Harrison and waved. She responded with a tiny nod. “Eunice” was just the name I’d given to the little Korean lady with the shopping cart full of empties that she pushed around the city. Her and I had established a kind of repartee over the years, so I felt like she deserved a name. After all, I was one of her biggest donors, and she seemed to recognize me every time I found her scrounging through the recycling bin outside my apartment at four in the fucking morning. Our friendship never developed any further than these subtle acknowledgements, but I was okay with that.

John Kelley’s Wake

Back in the main room of the pub they were playing “Auld Triangle” on the speakers — The Pogues version, as if there were any other. It was sundown, and in the distance you could just make out a halo around the crown of the Prudential Center. Spires of frosted orange sunlight shone through the bay windows at the far end of the bar, the silhouettes of panes framing all the faces that turned out to say farewell. I wasn’t in much of a mood for talking — Irish funerals also make for massive social events — but looking out at the crowd that had gathered at the bar, it was nice to see the diversity of lives that John had touched over his however-many years.

Before the sun had set, it had been one of those beautifully grey New England days that bugged my knee, so I’d been using my da’s old shillelagh as a crutch to help me walk. A few folks tried to offer me their stools to get me off my feet but I ignored them, not wanting to deal with all the small-talk conversation that would surely come along with it. The more funerals you find yourself at, the less inclined you are to go through that same dance every time:

“What’s good, brotha?”

“Ah, ya know, hangin’ in there. How ya been?”

“Good, good, yeah. Besides, you know.”

“Yeah.”

“Fuckin’ shame, y’know?”

“Yeah, I know.”

“I think he woulda liked this though. It’s a nice way to honor him.”

And so on ’til you puke. “No, he wouldn’t fuckin’ like it,” I always wanted to say, “‘Cause he’d still be fuckin’ dead, and having the corpse of the recently deceased prance around the funeral would really do a number on his loved ones, don’t you think?”

But instead the conversation shifts to some nostalgia, as if you and who you’re talking to have any kind of bond worth catching up on, besides being spat out on the Earth by your mams in or around the same zip code. Of course, it’d be rude to say, “I don’t care where you’re living now, I haven’t seen old-so-and-so, and I don’t care that she’s fat but since you asked I think it’s pretty fuckin’ rude of you to say so won’t you kindly piss off so I can grab another drink and drown the pain.”

It would take me at least another dozen pints until I got that honest.

The Flight

“Again, this is sweet, but insane,” Ian says as he rubs his eyes and shifts in the passenger seat. “My company pays for every cab ride I even think about taking, let alone take.”

“This is different,” I say. “Seeing you off out of New York is different.”

“You’re going to see me in eight days.”

“Please just let it be sweet, okay?”

He nods.

I start thinking about what I will miss most about Connecticut, and New York, and living here, and I wonder if what Ian will miss most are the same things. I wonder, as I drive down 95, a particularly ugly stretch of 95 where everything is very gray, where the palette is unwelcoming and dark even in July and the bark on the trees is a harsh brown, what I will fall in love with in London, and if I will even fall in love. I wonder if Ian thinks about these things, and I realize I don’t know.

“What’re you going to do with the house all to yourself for a week?”

“Dance on the tabletop. Invite the high school football team to party. Masturbate.”

“That’s my girl,” he says.

We don’t talk for a long while. Finally, he reaches in to the radio dial and turns up NPR to stave off the silence.

“Shit. This skyline,” he says as soon as we hit the Triboro Bridge. I don’t say anything back. “We’re going to have a real life over there, Rachel. Everything is going to be how it’s supposed to be.”

“This wasn’t real life?” I say, keeping my hands fixed on the wheel, not looking at him. I know he’s turned towards me.

“You and I both know this was no way to live. Any of it,” he says. “Me not being the best husband. And you…”

“And me what, Ian?”

“We’ve just been happier, is all,” he says. “We’ve both been happier without external forces chipping away at us, and we need to move on with our lives. This is us moving on with our lives. We’re doing the right thing.”

I start seeing signs for JFK as we cruise along the Van Wyck, not a speck of traffic in our way today.

“Virgin Atlantic,” he says calmly, pointing towards one of the big sign boards for the terminals. “If you didn’t agree with me in some capacity, you wouldn’t be doing this. But you are.”

Ian reaches down into his lap to adjust the buckle on his belt, even though he doesn’t really do anything with it, just sort of plays with it.

“You tossed and turned a lot last night in your sleep,” I say.

“This is all a big fucking deal, Rachel.”

I stare down into my lap for a second longer than I should.

Vows

We lie next to each other in bed and both stare up at the ceiling. My thumb keeps running over my naked ring finger. I am counting each of my breaths. I start counting each of Ian’s.

This is how we spend Friday night. Counting cracks on the ceiling. There is conversation, words with little meaning dribbling out in short bursts, but no movement. I finally turn towards him, and he mirrors me, our foreheads touching. We both close our eyes, and stay like that for a moment.

 “Let’s sleep,” he says, turning over towards the nightstand and flicking off the only remaining light in the room. I flip over so violently that I cause vibrations in the springs of the mattress. I don’t expect Ian to touch me, but he pulls me into him. And he holds me like the world is going to end.

***

I wake up early. The clock says eight, and Ian is still clutching me tight. I can’t remember the last time we stayed wrapped  into each other like this. I’m not tired, but the thought of leaving his arms is more terrible than anything, so I stay. He is asleep, but not fully, so I flip back towards him, willing, once again, for him. But he just rests his forehead onto mine, and inhales for more sleep.

I can’t be only one thing to him, whatever he wants me to be in this moment, so I sit up in bed and lean forward. He puts his hand on my back as he lays there, running his fingers over each notch of my spine, and as I shift to get up, he reaches out, and pulls me back into him with all of his might. And he will not let me go. We sleep another hour.

When I wake, I lie flat on my back, my ear near Ian’s lips. I get up to leave again, but I’m pulled back into bed with the same rubber band reflex against his chest.

At noon, when I wake back up for the final time, his forehead is tucked in against my shoulder, his breath spreading across my back. I reach my hand behind and find his hair, run my fingers through a thick patch on the back of his head, and he readjusts so his chin is resting in my neck.

 “I’m getting up,” I say, and lift myself off the sheets, starting to slide my legs down the side of the bed.

Ian has to catch my body on the way down, but he scoops me up, and doesn’t let me leave. And that’s when I start crying.

 “You won’t even kiss me,” I say, facing out, not looking at him.

 “It’s not you,” he says. “I just need to take this slow again.”

“I’m your wife, Ian,” I hiss. I’m trying to hard to stop the tears, pushing away any sign that they were ever there with the heel of my hand. “This is Kindergarten.”

I turn back so I’m staring back up at the ceiling, but he takes my hands and pulls me on top of him so I’m straddling him. I put my palms flat on his chest.

“What?” I say.

He puts his hands on my hips and, without a word, starts rocking me back and forth on him.

“What are you doing?” I say. “Ian.”

“Just stop talking,” he says, pulling my chemise up over my head.

Getaway Car

A conscious decision not to take a step forward. Beware, I tell myself. Caution is the only thing I have. Don’t look at him, I tell myself. Everyone gets here, right? Fear is just fear, right?

Go, he says.

He doesn’t know anything, I say under my breath. I want to say it louder, but I’m too scared—another thing I fear. Just a moment ago, I would have, I think, but something’s broken between now and then. Kicked off inside my head. Let me have another second, I tell myself.

Maybe if I just take this moment to breathe.

No, he says.

On Sunday, he told me he was done praying for the rest of his life. People can change just like that, I suppose. Quite the feat if you ask me. Risks are only risks if there’s a reward on the other side, right?

Stop thinking so much, he says, because he knows.

There’s a dent in the car door. Under the hood, it’s full of rust. Why did I ever think escape would be glamorous?

Rachel: Ian’s Return

On Thursday morning around ten-thirty, I hear the lock on the front door undoing. My stomach clenches up from my position at the kitchen table, where I am at my laptop doing some insurance paperwork. I literally close my eyes when Ian walks in the house.

The front door closes. I hear the sound of his suitcase roll across the hardwood in the foyer. Stop. His footsteps over to the kitchen table, over to me, and I feel his kiss on the crown of my head.

“Hi, lovely,” he says.

I hear him track into the bedroom, his bag rolling behind him. Then, the shower in our en suite flips on. I don’t open my eyes the entire time.

Ten minutes later, Ian walks through the French doors of the bedroom in a dress shirt and a tie, and he’s looking down at his cuffs, struggling to button them. His hair is wet.

“I’m going to run to the office. It’s still only four in London,” he says. He bends down to tie a shoe, and then comes over to me. He puts both his hands on my shoulders. “Hey. I love you,” he says. Then he grabs his car key off the hook by the door to the garage, and disappears as fast as he came in.

I blink a few times in succession, not sure if what just happened actually happened. I get up from the table and walk into the bedroom, and sure enough, Ian’s jeans and t-shirt are tossed in a pile on the bed. I sit down on the edge of the bed next to them for a second, then get up, walk over to the bureau, pull out my jewelry box, and slip off my wedding rings.

Brandon’s Beard

Brandon’s Beard was born in the summer of 2003 when Brandon was twelve years old. At first it appeared like a thin layer of dirt, and its fuzzy wire limbs were not strong enough yet to grasp firmly onto his young face. “Son,” his father that Saturday morning, “it’s time to teach you to shave.” But Brandon was too young, too excited to listen to his father. He was too busy plopping piles of shaving cream onto his own face that he never heard his father say, “Son, it is our duty as men to control the beard. For if we do not the control the beard, the beard will control us instead. And son, we cannot have that. We absolutely cannot that.”

Brandon trapped the beard in the lathered cream and dragged the blade across his face, slicing off its tentacles. The beard’s dying limbs waggled in the air, vibrating fast enough to make a sound, but again, Brandon never heard it. Though the beard had died that day, its offspring were planted stealthily in his pores, awaiting the day when they themselves could grow strong and take control.

As the years went on, it gained control, one tiny layer of fuzz at a time. With each new shave, it returned thicker, stronger, more alive — but Brandon managed to circumcise it every time, slaying the monster and shattering its hold on him.

It was the crunch of Finals, the fall semester of his Senior year of college. Brandon hadn’t managed his time so well, and found himself suddenly faced with less time than he needed to accomplish the things he had to. Something to give. Some major timesuck had to be sacrificed in order for him to complete the semester.

On that fateful night, he heard the wiggling follicles whisper on the word. “Leave us, Brandon,” they said in unison. “Let us grow, while you take care of more important things. You can always cut us later.” And this time, Brandon listened.

Several passed passed without sleep, and the beard continued growing, each little symbiote limb sneaking out of Brandon’s skin and joining with its hirsute kin. On the third night, Brandon looked at his clock and saw it nearing 4am. He had only 4 hours until it was due. But he was too exhausted to complete it. Not even caffeine could save his weakened and exhausted mind.

Brandon felt a fire curtain drop across his eyes. The beard had its chance. As Brandon’s heavy head began to float down to the desk in search of its reprieve, the bristled whiskers reached out, each as far as they could go, and as they stretched further and further, their roots sunk deeper, deeper into their master’s flesh. The strands came together and tied a series of scratchy around Brandon’s abandoned pen. They lifted it from the desk in unison then brought the pen down to the paper and began to write in harmony.

Where once they were but individual fibers, now they were become Beard, and Brandon has not had a conscious thought in control of his body since that very day.