Revelator

Note: This is a slightly modified version of the first chapter of my upcoming novel, out this summer.

 

Central Alabama, 1993

The man who was supposed to be Jesus Christ bore his large wooden cross with grace and surprising ease up a long, steep incline in rush hour traffic, the crossbeam over his shoulder and the upright extending several feet back down to the pavement behind him where two large wheels with knobby tires rolled easily over the gravel and broken glass along the side of the road.

He stayed tight to the guardrail, a globe of mosquitos whirling about his head. Passing vehicles caught his white coveralls in their headlight beams and actually made him glow a little in the strange, shifting light of dusk but passing motorists paid him no mind. They had places to go and no time for apparitions; besides, they’d seen such things before. Roadside Jesuses were everywhere these days and this, they knew, was no apparition. It was Alabama.

He crossed into Pine County, the back of his neck black and bloody from slapping engorged mosquitos. There was a country store just outside the city limits and he made for it. It was cool and bright inside and smelled like pine cleaner. After a quick clean-up in the men’s room he gathered supplies and dropped bug spray, two cans of Vienna sausages and a Miller tall boy beside the register. The cashier began scanning his items and he asked for a pack of Winstons.

“You know Jesus didn’t have wheels back in the day and he sure could’ve used some,” the cashier said as she scanned the cigarettes. She was small and slender with long blonde hair strung with multicolored beads and a label reading “Mercy” on her name tag.

“What exactly are you saying?” the man asked.

“Only that Jesus didn’t have some things is all,” she said.

“Like wheels for his cross,” he said.

“Like that,” she said. “Or ice cubes.”

“Or running shoes.”

“Boiled peanuts.”

“Old lockback knife.”

“Wine ice cream.”

“And nowhere to lay his head.”

“Ain’t you the philosopher,” she said.

“Only when there’s money in my pocket and no bench warrants out on me.”

She giggled. “You’re also a Payne.”

“I have been called that,” he said.

“I recognized you right off. Your grandaddy’s got that horse farm,” she said. “And we went to school together.”

“More like a field of burr grass and poison oak,” Payne said. “And you were in eighth grade when I was a senior with your cousin.”

“Yeah but seventh grade,” she said.

“Your folks alright?” he asked.

“Mama’s passed and daddy’s driving long-haul,” she said.

“Sorry about your mom.”

He gathered his items and walked outside where the cross was leaning against a dumpster beside a gravel road running back through a locked cattle gate. He set his food and drink on the crossbeam as though it were a lunch counter. When he finished both cans of sausages he tipped each against his lips and drank the juice then tossed them in the dumpster.

“Damn,” the cashier named Mercy said as she rounded the corner holding a cigarette. “I ain’t ever seen that, drinking Vienna juice.”

“I never saw a girl with her hair done up like a bead curtain in a hippy van,” Payne said. He tossed the can in the dumpster and chased the Vienna liquor with a pull from the tall boy. 

“What’s a hippy van?” she asked.

He lit a cigarette. “Something from the good old days.”

“Sounds like a way of saying you don’t like my hair,” she said.

“I don’t feel any one or other way about it.”

“Some philosopher you are,” she said.

She went back inside but returned a few minutes later with more tall boys. “Fetch your killing tree and come on,” she said starting down the gravel road. “You can tell me about them good old days.”

Payne caught up with her at a stand of dogwoods and water oaks shading a double-wide trailer. It was a full moon and he could see a floating deck and above-ground oval swimming pool out front. He thought he could make out the base of an old brick fireplace at one end of the slab and a small garden past that in silhouette against the silvery moonlight.

Payne leaned the cross against a tree and joined Mercy on the deck beneath a canopy of small white Christmas lights and a few electric bug zappers. Mercy handed Payne the beers. “Knock yourself out,” she said heading for the trailer. “I’ll be out shortly.”

Payne walked around with his beer and checked out the electrical setup. A line of fresh dirt back to the house from the outlet. He squatted and looked under the deck. Looks properly mounted and grounded, maybe overworked from too many splitters and extension cords. Didn’t seem to be doing much for the skeeters. And looks like new work. Reckon who put that in?

Mercy returned with light rum and Sprite Zero.

“It’s the only mixer I have unless someone or both feel like walking back up to the store,” she said. “And there might be a pizza coming. Drivers sometimes get lost.”

Payne stood back up. “Electricals seem to be holding up,” he said.

“I know. Too many cords,” she said. “But the Christmas lights are nice and I need the zappers.”

“A fan or three blowing across here will keep the skeeters off.”

“Where were you when I needed you?” she said.

“That’s what you get for being called Mercy and not Prudence.”

“Ha. Ha. Mercy is a nickname. I was named after both my grandmas, Celeste and Marzie,” she said. “Never liked that first name so I used the middle but sister couldn’t say it right. Always came out sounding like Mercy. Everyone took to it.”

Payne kept drinking and she kept talking. She told him she was an artist and was going to community college in the fall to take paramedic classes and eventually become a flight attendant. He told her he’d left college a year ago.

“You just up and left?” she asked. “Your last semester?”

“I broke into the pool one night. And they are as proud of their swim team as they are of John Wesley,” was all he told her.

“They kicked you out of school for swimming?” she asked.

“There were multiple offenses,” Payne said.

“There’s got to be more to that story,” Mercy said.

“There’s always more to every story,” he said.

Why even talk about getting thrown out of a Methodist college for moral turpitude? The Methodists might have shown mercy had he been a business major or pre-med, but there had to be consequences since he was a ministerial student. Or so they said. The real reason he knew was that he got caught inside the college’s natatorium while also inside the seventeen-year-old daughter of the Dean of Arts and Sciences. They had been discovered by campus police violating pool rules in the deep end near the ladder, their clothes suddenly illuminated in circles of light on the pool deck, the campus cop sweeping his flashlight beam back and forth between them and their clothing. Then dressing in the dark, saying nothing and awash in doom while the cops waited outside.

“What I’m trying to figure out,” she said, “is whether you’re running away from something or running after something.”

“I’m a blank slate as of sometime today,” he said.

“No signs or visions?” she asked. “Angelic beings?”

“Saw a dead crow in a ditch,” Payne said.

“A dead crow? Lort,” she said. “That’s one of the biggest signs.”

“What are you? Some kind of swami?”

“Don’t worry. I’m not touched or anything,” she said. “Just curious and read too much.”

“Spooky girl.”

“You might say.”

“So what am I looking at here?” Payne asked.

“Change,” she said. “A dead crow is change. Big change.”

“Because I happened to walk by it on the road?”

“Yeah,” she said. “But you noticed it.”

“Hard to miss,” he said.

“There were traffic lights and buildings and cars speeding by, all kinds of things to get your attention,” she said. “But you noticed the dead crow. And not just noticed it. Still thinking about it.”

“I also remember what I saw on the men’s room wall when I was taking a leak at your store up yonder,” he said. “Mighty rude stuff, you ask me.”

She giggled. “Yeah I’ve seen it and I’ll be the one cleaning it off the wall,” she said. “Folks usually take a dead crow as good because crows are assholes. Not everyone thinks that but most do and it does mean something new is coming if you believe in that direction.”

“Bird mortality aside, something is always coming,” he said. “You’ll have to be more specific.”

Mercy stood up and began walking across the deck toward the pool unbuttoning her shirt as she went. “Like I said, I don’t have the gift.” She dropped her shirt and continued down the steps. “Just a library card, internet that’s slow as Christmas and a pool of my own.”

“I have had bad luck with swimming pools,” Payne said.

“The past ain’t prophesy,” Mercy said. She stepped out of her panties when she got to the ladder.

Payne watched her climb. It was the natatorium all over again and he was feeling something akin to love but more specific.

When Payne stood he instantly perceived his Vienna sausages had not held the line against all those tall boys and little bit of rum, but he shed his coveralls anyway. He flung them without looking in the general direction of the dogwoods behind him then followed the trail of her clothes to the pool. Payne left his underclothes at the foot of the ladder and climbed looking forward to washing off the blood and sweat and smashed mosquitoes from his back. Up on the small platform, Mercy splashed him from one end of the pool. The water washed over his head and left a dogwood petal clinging to his cheek; a perfect shot. He turned his back to her. The Christmas lights twinkled over the deck where the cross leaned against the rails and the coveralls he’d blindly flung were hanging from the cross like a deflated scarecrow.  “Lucky throw” he thought as he crouched then spun a backflip into the pool.

He sank to the bottom and thought he could feel the cool water lifting the sweat and blood and mosquito grime off his skin. Looking up through the surface of the pool the moon shimmered then burst into white fragments as Mercy glided over him, her beaded hair a kaleidoscopic halo illuminated by bright fractured moonlight encircling her face. It grew brighter and then her legs were disappearing up and out of sight. Before he could follow the water heaved and filled with light. He was shoved forward then began tumbling backwards in the rushing water wondering if that untamed and untamable cosmic horse had finally thrown him.

He ended up on his back choking on pool water and tasting chlorine. Rolling over on his side to catch his breath and protect his vitals he sought physical orientation and clothing. He coughed and called to Mercy but couldn’t hear himself over a rumbling engine. The side of the pool was partially torn and crumpled underneath the front wheels of a large truck. It was still running and some of the pool’s external aluminum frame protruded downward from the grill like tusks. Payne rubbed his eyes and attempted to stand, but a hand grasped his wrist and dragged him away from the pool and across the grass and then he found himself looking up into the face of a very angry man standing with one boot on Payne’s chest.

“Fucker!” the angry man said. “You’re as shit out of luck as Jesus on Friday.”

“But this is Tuesday,” Payne managed to say, defusing the situation with humor, but the angry man only grinned and punched him in the face.

Stars filled Payne’s vision. Whether they were just in his head or strung through tree branches or up in the heavens above he could not say; but he was certain it was Tuesday.

A tad weathered from exhaustion and the demon rum, not to mention having just taken a beating that had all the earmarks of one’s karmic chickens looking for a nice fixer-upper, his mind heeding the call that his body couldn’t, the call to get him, you know, out of there. So he was drifting now, gliding over land, over water and settling in the South Pacific, Easter Island where he became a monolith among monoliths in some kind of grand chess game of the gods, all staring out to sea where the moon shimmered on the surface of warm tropical waters. He could see Mercy awash in silver light at the edge of the cliff, small feet with purple toenails curling over nothing but gravity, knees bent, poised for launch. Then she turned and called to him and he blinked. When he opened his eyes she was sitting on wet grass just a few feet away with her back against the rear wheel of an old tow truck. It was parked partially inside one end of the ruined swimming pool and he noticed that the yoke used to secure and lift the front wheels of vehicles was in the shape of a cross. Then everything went from dark to black.

When Payne awoke moments or minutes or hours later–he was betting on minutes–there were flashing lights and commotion. His outstretched arms pulled at his shoulders and he was unable to move his hands but was relieved to feel a blanket over his privates. He could hear Mercy but couldn’t see her. Lifting his head he looked straight down his tunnel vision to see the angry man, somewhat out of focus and handcuffed, being pushed into the back seat of a brown vehicle. Payne wished he were looking through a rifle scope and wondered if it would be better or worse seeing the world through the wrong end of cheap binoculars for the rest of his life.

“What’s the hoopla?” he managed to ask someone hovering over him, a volunteer fireman with a patch on his sleeve, a serpent wrapped around what looked too much like a nail.

“Just hold still, bubba,” the paramedic said. ” I never un-crucified someone. This might get sporty.”

Payne felt pressure in his hand and by the time he turned his head to see, his hand was free. Hovering at the end of the tunnel a shiny nail lay in the palm of a latex glove smeared with blood. Then he felt pressure in his other hand, and throbbing that preceded an eruption of pain. That was new. This time he didn’t try to see.

“How you feeling now, buddy?” the paramedic asked.

“Like Jesus,” Payne said. “On Friday.”

###

An Aging Bachelor Talks To His Latest Aging Conquest Three Weeks In

my whole life I loved brunettes
but now it’s blondes and fake blondes
like you

whoever the other guy or guys are
you will always wonder
best to remain with
whoever pays your way
all the way
to the finish line

double-down on your husband
because nobody ever had it all
all at once

you already hate
my solitude and sleeping alone
and as much as I enjoy
backgammon together
and having you in my bed–
and you only wake-up in my bed
because the sex is good and I
sleep heavy–
you will never
be my all
or my better half
or even more than
a third although it may be a strong third
and maybe even the strongest third
almost as important as my
revenue streams
or fishing trips because
you’re not getting any younger
and your daughters are getting older

you will grow to hate that
you will listen to me
scrub on that black guitar
week after week but
never write a song about you,
hate that I will love you
the way I’ve loved
all of you
constant
at arm’s length
at which length
you may become angry
or cry
or maybe even
try to punch or
stab me someday

Metamorphosis 2020

Lester’s wife, Elvira, left that year on Valentine’s Day when lockdown appeared imminent.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “but I can’t be quarantined with you. I still have my youth. I have still have time to be happy.”

“You’re forty-eight,” Lester said. “Almost forty-nine.”

“Exactly,” said Elvira.

He never saw her again.

Lester thought about being sad, but three people in his county had a cough so he didn’t have time. As soon as Elivra’s car left the driveway, he made for the garage, hitched his small wagon to Ol’ Blue Betty, his pet burro, and skinned out for The Everything Store.

Lester already had a spare bedroom filled with paper towels and toilet paper. He’d been using the cardboard rolls in his folk art for years so he quietly thanked Providence for being so providential. This also made his shopping list a slam dunk: Sports drink, 20 cases; instant mac and cheese, 20 cases; cheese curlz, 20 bags; vienna sausages: 20 cases; glycerin suppositories: 20 boxes; and one jar of adult gummy multivitamins.

Lester lived forty-five miles from The Everything Store so when he got back home with his supplies five days later, he piled them in the bedroom his wife had been sleeping in. So much had happened already that he couldn’t remember her name anymore and he was beginning to feel funny but he knew how to make himself feel better. His job required everyone to work from home until further notice so he called the cable company to upgrade to the full digital package that included seven porn channels and over three thousand other channels that he was pretty sure didn’t exist.

That first day and night had been glorious. He let his phone battery die on purpose and didn’t recharge it. He didn’t pay the internet bill either which meant he couldn’t receive emails. He was pretty sure that viruses affect computer systems, too, so it wasn’t his fault and Anna Karenina or whatever his boss’s name was could suck it. He ate three large New York style pizzas and watched porn all night then finally fell asleep at dawn.

He did not sleep well.

He woke often with the worst headache he’d ever had. What light there was in the room blinded him. It was as if the room were full of massive Klieg lights every time he tossed and turned, woke up in a haze, and opened his eyes. Nothing but blinding light and double, triple, even quadruple vision. He started thinking he might have the virus and began worrying about Ol’ Blue Betty because he had forgotten to buy her the gummy bears and tinned kippers she loved.

When he awoke for the twentieth time and couldn’t get back to sleep, he kept his eyes shut and walked around the den turning off all the lamps and overhead lights. Once he was pretty sure the room was dark he opened his eyes.

The glow of the fifty-two inch widescreen tv was painful but bearable. He found the remote and dimmed the screen. He was hungry and was pretty sure he’d been asleep for a few months. Walking was difficult. Why were his legs so stiff? This could be a problem as there were steps up to the kitchen from the sunken living room. His skin was becoming very tender all over. Surely he didn’t have bedsores? It was difficult to tell in the dark but he seems to have developed some kind mild lesions. He wondered if this were a symptom of the worst virus in the history of mankind and decided to look it up on the internet but when he tried was confronted with the error page since he hadn’t paid the bill. But because he had forgotten he hadn’t paid the bill, he called customer service and yelled at someone who spoke a language that he was pretty sure was Canadian and which he didn’t understand and who he was pretty sure didn’t understand him. He then realized he didn’t understand himself, either. Did he really sound like that?

It was then he realized his phone was dead and he’d been yelling at himself. He didn’t remember letting the phone battery die and couldn’t find the charging cord in the dark and didn’t really care to look.

The next thing he did to make things easier on himself was to bring the microwave into the den and set it up on an end table at one end of the sofa. He fought through the increasing pain and stiffening joints and brought his Everything Store food supplies into the den and stacked them on the love seat. He was pretty sure the pain and stiff joints were from ejaculating too much that first night watching porn. He remembered almost nothing, but the front of his gym shorts were crusty and stiff. He was starting to feel bloated and noticed his belly was distended and getting somewhat round. He was either getting constipated or gassy, or both, and made a mental note to cut back on gluten in a couple of years or maybe next week.

For now it was nothing a couple glycerin suppositories couldn’t fix. He congratulated himself on his forward thinking about his diet and gluten, and headed for the bathroom.

As that first week wore on, he stayed on the couch as much as possible. Moving had become painful and the bloating continued. He hadn’t urinated or moved his bowels in days. Maybe a couple of years. He couldn’t be sure. Measuring time was beginning to confuse him and he just looked at the window curtains to see if it were day or night. The rest of the time was determined by the tv schedule. He was beginning to realize that calendars were a scam.

By the fifth or maybe the twenty-seventh day he had everything he needed surrounding him on the couch. The microwave at one end, the food at the other. Salt, pepper, and a few condiments were arranged neatly on his coffee table along with several boxes full of individually-wrapped anti-bacterial wipes he used to wipe down his fork and spoon after eating. He also used them for sponge baths, but the lesions all over his body had gotten worse and every time he gave himself a sponge bath with the antibacterial wipes they burned like fire, so he eventually stopped doing that.

He wasn’t sure how long it had been. A few weeks or it could have been a year and a half or may just a couple of hours–he couldn’t tell anymore–but he awoke one night and could just see in the dim glow of the television that had been on since that first day that he had become fat. He must weigh a hundred pounds! he thought. Or is that a thousand?

The lesions had opened up completely and were highly sensitive. The double-vision had gotten so bad he couldn’t walk straight, and his joints were so stiff he couldn’t have if he wanted to. Even the dimly lit tv that was now running constant infomercials with honeymoon footage or some such caused him a lot of pain. He was getting a little worried because he hadn’t heard a peep out of Ol’ Blue Betty for a few years or it could’ve been seven minutes he didn’t know. He couldn’t be sure at this point that was even her name because who would name a hamster Ol’ Blue Betty? He couldn’t smell anything like death or even body odor, just occasionally a faint earthy smell and was pretty sure that was a sign of the virus. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d used the bathroom, he only knew he never had to go. The sunlight shining  through the curtains the next morning intensified the headache that never went away so he pulled the large soft comforter over his entire body and went back to sleep.

When he awoke he was pretty sure it was the future although for some reason he kept thinking it was 1869. His arms didn’t work anymore; he couldn’t even feel them and getting up was too much of a hassle and he practically had to roll. himself off the couch if he wanted to get up anyway. He answered his dead phone that wasn’t ringing by rolling over so that it lay pressed beneath that side of his face. He had a long conversation with someone from Hawaii. The call either lasted fifteen minutes or seven months.

“Say now, who is this?” he asked. “I need to keep this line clear.”

“This is Ol’ Blue Betty,” the voice said.

“That’s a lie,” Lester said. “Betty is a hamster and I’m pretty sure she’s dead. I haven’t fed her in eleven minutes or fourteen months. I can’t be certain.”

“I’m a burro and I’m not dead. I’m in Hawaii,” the voice said.

“How did you get there?” he asked.

“Travel agent,” said the voice.

“But why?” Lester asked.

“You really don’t know?” the voice asked.

“You shouldn’t answer a question with a question,” Lester said.

“You’re a potato,” the voice said.

“Who’s a potato?” Lester asked.

But the line on the phone with the dead battery suddenly went dead. He rolled back away from the phone. There was enough light in the room that he could see a number of eyes reflected in the dark screen blinking back at him from the dead phone.

It was the craziest YouTube video he’d ever seen.

###

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Benny

Benny Lundgren could not believe it was 2019 already. “Ten years of marriage,” he thought while changing the oil in his wife Joanie’s new Mercedes, “and I still get horny whenever I see her. Hell, whenever I even think of her. The anti-marriage guys just don’t know what they’re missing.”

Just thinking about the look on her face when he had surprised her on Mother’s Day with the car made him smile.

“What is THAT?” she had asked, looking past the Mercedes at the beat-up Corolla in the garage.

“I had to trade in my truck,” he had told her, ” and that is all I could afford. I had to roll the truck balance into the loan for the Mercedes.”

He could feel himself growing hard imagining the rush of love she must have been feeling about his sacrifices for her.

“Aww, aren’t you sweet?” she had said as she gave him a light peck on the forehead. “But keep it in the garage. Don’t ever park it on the street or in the driveway.”

“Of course,” he had said, then encircled her waist with his arm as he pressed his growing hard-on into her ass. He loved it when she wore her lululemons. “If you follow me upstairs, I have another present for you.”

She pressed the lock on the key fob and slipped free of his arm. “Oh, not now. I’m going to be late for Pure Barre.”

“Oh,” he had said.

“Now don’t be sad, sweet boy,” she lightly scolded. “Don’t you want mommy to show off her new present to all the girls at yoga class? Show them what a wonderful husband she has? Let’s turn that frown upside down.” She had laid her hand on his cheek for emphasis.

He grinned a little. “Yeah I am pretty awesome.”

“I’ll say,” she had said as she turned and skipped into the house.

He remembered it like it was yesterday because that night they fought about sex.

“It just seems like you would want to, you know, be intimate with your husband, especially after all the trouble I’ve gone through to buy you your dream car.

Upon hearing this her anger matured from hate to rage. “Oh so I’m just supposed to fuck you because you spent some money on me? Is that how this works? I’m just some kind of domesticated whore?”

“Well, no, I–”

“Sure sounds that way to me,” Joanie said as the she ripped her bathrobe open to reveal her naked body and lay back on the bed, spreading her legs. “Have at it, big boy. Come fuck me like the whore I am.”

He just stood there with a rock-hard erection. “I…come on, don’t talk like that,” he said. “That’s not it. Not what I meant at all. I–” But he had not seen her naked in three months and it was more than he could stand. He pushed his sweatpants down and stepped toward the bed.

“OH MY GOD!” she screamed. “This is really what you want? What kind of sick fucking rapist are you, anyway?”

“What, no, I’m not. What?” he stammered.

Joanie jumped up and pulled her robe shut. “Asshole!” she yelled, then ran into the bathroom and slammed the door. When he heard the lock click, he went downstairs to make a sandwich which he wrapped in a paper towel and took to his man cave, the small storage closet off the garage that had just enough space for a small recliner, a dorm room refrigerator that pulled double-duty as a side table for the chair, and a small television set. He sat in the chair and opened the fridge. “At least I have plenty of beer,” he thought.

***

When Joanie shook him the next morning, he awoke with a headache and a hard-on. The smell of her perfume and her soft hand on the back of his head only made him harder. He looked around. He was still in his chair in the closet.

“I guess you’re not going to make it to church. Again,” she said.

“Sorry, yeah, no,” he said. “Not feeling it today.”

Joanie said nothing and walked out. He listened to her heels clicking on the smooth concrete floor and didn’t get up until she was backing down the driveway.

He went inside and saw that she’d turned the coffee maker off even though the pot was still half-full. He poured a cup of lukewarm coffee and heated it in the microwave, then put some Pop Tarts in the toaster. While the Pop Tarts were toasting he fed the dog and walked outside to get the paper down at the end of the driveway. On his way back up to the house he looked up and down the street, wondering what it would be like to live three houses down, at 1434 where Jackson’s wife was plump but seemed happy driving a minivan and sometimes cut the grass. Or 1401 on the other side, at the end of the street, where Liebler’s wife was older than him and wore long skirts and long-sleeved, high-necked blouses that were a little too tight and was always waiting on the porch for him and seemed happy to see him when he got home from work.

Back in the kitchen, he saw that his Pop Tarts had popped. He wrapped them in a paper towel and grabbed his coffee and walked back out to his man cave. He felt better out there than in the living room. He would probably drop some Pop Tart crumbs on the couch or inadvertently leave a ring on the coffee table and didn’t want to upset her.

He settled into his recliner and switched the television on to The Joan Lundgren Hour of Ministry. She wore a tight-fitting white business shirt and navy slacks that were thin and stretchy just like her yoga pants. He grew hard, and harder, watching her prance on stage, her heels adding prominence to her ass. His heart sank at the shame washing over him as he imagined fucking her doggystyle in the elevated baptismal tub while congregation packed in the pews gasped but watched anyway.

“Do you really want to burn in Hell?” his wife asked as she walked back and forth across the thick maroon carpet like a panther prowling in front of a cave that contained her next meal. “For eternity?” she continued. “E-Ter-Ni-Ty? Cause that’s a mighty long time.”

The congregation laughed. Benny sat entranced, ignoring the crumbs on his shirt, the erection straining at his sweatpants.

“I can feel many of you watching out there, can feel your pain and your sin and the self-imposed hell you’re in right now! You’re in prison! Prisons of lust! Prisons of greed! Prisons of selfishness. Self-centeredness! But you don’t have to remain a pathetic wretch! If you’ve been helped by our ministry and want to demonstrate your support with a financial contribution, or if you just need someone to talk to, our phone lines are open…”

Benny picked up his phone and dialed.

###

 

 

 

 

Closure

The shutdowns had impacted society like never before.

“Stay home” orders spread across the globe and economies ground to a halt. Most people obeyed and did their part although it was rumored–and at times confirmed–that members of so-called elite classes continued throwing parties and holding other social gatherings quietly, behind the scenes. Meanwhile, the obedient classes who were out of work waited in food lines and hoped for government checks.

‪Everywhere politicians, business moguls, and scientists argued about the most effective course of action, but one group actually rose up to make a difference. ‬

It started slowly. First one state, then another. As abortion clinics were forced to close their doors to help reduce human contact and in so doing reduce risk of transmission of this most deadly of viruses that could not only pose a threat to our very way of life but to humanity in general, a strong, independent woman rose up to challenge the status quo and speak truth to power.

The woman’s name was Bouleshine Fledermaus Gotterdammerung, or “Boulie” as she was known to friends and family and, in no time at all, to the world as well.

Boulie, an obscure performance artist, sat on the board of directors for the state chapter of a feminist organization whose motto was “Women, Now More Than Ever.”

It had been Boulie who rallied to the aid of abortion clinics. The speeches she began recording at home and broadcasting over the internet on social media reached hundreds, then thousands, then millions, and the image of her stomping back and forth, barefoot in her kitchen–where, she joked, she belonged because the acoustics were better and her floor was heated–soon became iconic and beloved by feminists and social justice warriors worldwide.

“This is not caution!” she exclaimed, her big blue eyes on fire, her pale alabaster skin flushed, her long blond dreadlocks whipping back and forth as she shouted and gestured. “This is not prudence! This is certainly not healthy!” she continued, gesturing quotation marks with her fingers for emphasis.

“This is madness!” she shouted. “This is oppression! This is injustice! And this will not stand! This aggression will not stand!”

In a matter of weeks she was pulling in over eight thousand dollars a month via advertising revenue on her social media accounts, and her GoFundMe account was over five hundred thousand dollars and still growing.

She used the money to retain lawyers and private security, and secretly organized what was later called “the bravest thing any woman had ever done”: mass civil disobedience in concert with abortion clinic operators to contact women who had been turned away in the name of pandemic safety and re-open for business.

And re-open they did.

She personally stood in the doorway at one clinic that was closest to the local television station and invited a camera crew to meet her there, and they got the entire spectacle on film. Boulie in the doorway, letting women and staff in and announcing no one, not even the police, had a right to enter “her” doorway.

Of course the police were called. By the time they arrived, Boulie had locked herself in the clinic with around twenty women seeking “medication abortions” by pill, and perhaps ten staff members.

Similar scenes played out at the other seventeen clinics with which Boulie had coordinated the “re-openings of womens’ lives” as she called it.

It turned out to be the single match that burned the forest down. Soon, women everywhere were falling in line behind her. Boulie’s t-shirt sales skyrocketed, and where just days prior women were yelling at joggers and throwing rotten eggs at people out driving around in their cars in presumed violation of stay-at-home orders, the same women and quite a few men were now organizing, demonstrating, and in some cases marching in small towns and big cities around the country. Law enforcement, already stretched thin, eventually became unable to provide effective disbursement and settled for hanging back and just making sure nobody got hurt.

The movement grew and elected officials, powerless to stop it without declaring martial law and calling out the national guard, eventually began rescinding the stay-at-home orders. Placating a suspended workforce numbering in the millions with no end in sight had been one thing. Very few politicians had the fortitude to begin locking up thousands of women protesting the closure of abortion clinics worldwide in blatant disregard for standing stay-at-home orders.

The pandemic blinked. Abortion won the day.

As abortion clinics opened their doors across the western hemisphere, health officials of every major government held press conferences announcing that some treatments being used successfully in various parts of the world were effective in minimizing the effects of the virus, allowing most people to rest and recover without significant risk to their lives or the lives of their fellow man. It was really just a nasty flu after all, they said.

And just like that, the pandemic was over.

By the time the virus became commonly known as “that nasty, weird flu”, media outlets around the world were covering Boulie’s press conferences at abortion clinics around the United States and, eventually, around the world.

It was at one such conference she held at a town fair in Duluth, Minnesota where she confirmed growing speculation amongst the media and the rumors spreading online by publicly announcing her candidacy for President of the United States.

###

The Samurai: Social Distance Doomsday

The bungalows on both sides of the street near Birmingham’s southside sat high atop well-landscaped properties that all sloped gently downward to the sidewalks below. At one particularly large house and property on the corner overlooking the intersection, a woman in a sunhat and sunglasses sat on a gently swaying porch swing sipping lemonade while her husband stood on a step-stool and sprayed a section of the large picture window with organic, all-natural glass cleaner and wiped at it with a paper towel.

Suddenly, all was not well. The woman cocked her head at the high-pitched whine of an engine. As the sound grew louder she set her lemonade glass on a flower petal-shaped coaster on a side table, walked quickly to the other side of the porch, and grabbed the handle of a small wicker basket containing eggs. The man also heard the engine and looked back over his shoulder when he saw his wife heading down the steps with the basket, he turned around and shouted, “Karen! No!” just as she burst into a fast jog heading straight for their corner of the intersection.

“Stay at home, Jeremy!” she yelled as she ran down and across their yard. “Just stay the fuck at home!” She reached the intersection at the same time as the mystery rider known popularly as The Samurai cruising down the street on his red and black Kawasaki racing bike throttled down in advance of the stop sign.

“Karen!” shouted her husband.

Two eggs in hand, Karen cocked her arm back but before she could fling them at The Samurai, he jumped the curb and circled behind her, already gripping his well-lacquered bamboo practice katana he quickly smashed the eggs in her cupped hand and used the tip to knock her sunhat into the street. He then executed a perfect skid stop and caught the egg basket under the handle with the katana, pulling it out of the shrieking woman’s grip. As he spun the motorcycle on its front tire with the rear wheel high in the air, he flipped the basket up and over with the katana causing all of the eggs to fall on the now crying woman’s head and shoulders.

“THROW LIKE GIRL!” The Samurai shouted as her husband ran up with a roll of paper towels. He swung the katana backhanded and knocked the roll of paper towels into their gnome garden.

“GAY HUSBAND!” observed The Samurai as he gunned the engine and sped off leaving Karen weeping and choking on the smell of rotten eggs while Jeremy retrieved the paper towels from where they had rolled into an ivy bed.

Jeremy ran to the curb and began wiping at the rotten yolks and whites soaking Karen’s short, curly hair. “You’ve got to stop this, Karen,” Jeremy said calmly. “Just look at yourself.”

“Get a fucking life!” Karen shouted back.

They both stared down the long road away from the city and watched The Samurai’s
shape grow smaller as he disappeared from view riding westward towards the
setting sun.

Karen did not approach the street again for the remainder of the quarantine but still yelled at cars and joggers from the porch while Jeremy sat beside her reading motocross magazines.

Months later, when the stay-at-home order was finally lifted, she and Jeremy divorced. Despite many false alarms and continuing cases of mistaken identity, The Samurai was never seen near Birmingham again.

The Humanity

The tall, gangly customer with graying hair was holding a trade paperback over his head and shaking it like a revival preacher.

“What did you say?” the bookstore clerk asked him.

“I said someone in this store is putting the price labels over the authors’ pictures on these books!” He pushed the book toward the clerk. “On every book!”

“That is one book,” the clerk said.

“But it’s not the only book,” the customer replied. “It’s every book in the store!”

“You’re saying you looked at every book in the store?” the clerk asked.

“I looked at enough,” the customer said, “so I drew some conclusions.”

“I think you jumped to conclusions. You are mistaken,” the clerk said. “That is not our policy.”

“Come to the shelves!” the customer insisted. “I’ll show you!”

“I can’t leave the register,” the clerk said.

“This is important,” the customer said. “It is a matter of credit. A matter of identity.”

The clerk’s eyes narrowed. “It’s a fucking sticker!” he exclaimed. “And you, sir, are an enthusiast.”

“Don’t talk down to me,” the customer replied. “I have credentials!”

“And I have customers,” the clerk said. “Please step aside.”

“This isn’t over! You have a job to do!” the customer shouted as he stepped off line, making a big show of scratching the price tag off the back cover of the book he was holding. The label peeled easily off of the photo of the author which turned out to be the customer himself. He dropped the book on the counter near the register.

“See that, shitass?” the author asked.

The clerk saw that. “You have committed blatant vandalism!” he exclaimed.

“Your grandma undressed for sailors,” the author replied.

By now the customers lining up at the register observed the back-and-forth as though it were a spirited tennis match.

“My grandmother,” the clerk shouted, “was a suffragette!”

“She was a whore,” the author said. “A communist whore.”

“Bastard!” the clerk screamed and leapt from behind the counter. His knee caught on the edge and he fell straight down hitting the floor head first. A security guard ran over to help the clerk up and also restrain him.

“Let’s break this up,” said the security guard. “Manager called the cops.”

“Mind your business, Albert!” the clerk said to him before turning back to the author. “You piece of shit! I’ll have you arrested!”

“Please do. My name is Wells,” the author answered. “And I will come back here every day and remove every goddamned label on every goddamned book that is covering every goddamned author’s picture. You’re not going to get away with this.”

“You’re crazy!” the clerk said, straining against the much larger security guard’s hold on him.

“The authorities will no doubt be interested in the identity theft going on in here,” Wells said loudly.

“I will have you compelled!” the clerk yelled.

“Quit talking like a faggot,” the author said as he turned toward the exit. “This isn’t Europe.”

 

 

Redaction

So
he never liked how she
gave guys rides home from
night classes at the community
college but she was just
“being nice”(TM) and why would
she be so blatantly honest about
it because if anything were
going on she would be
hiding it and anyways
the pre-marital
counselor agreed
that controlling
behavior was
a bad sign,
right?

So
when she told him on
the honeymoon that she
had taken a job in
pharmaceutical sales
that required in-state
travel he was bothered
by the way she made
that decision without
talking to him about
it first but who
was he–her sister
pointed out–to
tell her what
she can and
cannot
do?

So
when she announced that once
their son was born she would be
putting him in daycare as soon as
possible so that she could get
back to her career and he
suggested she stay home to
raise the baby as agreed
before they married she said
it would probably only be
part-time anyway and who
was he to keep from her the
dignity and independence a great
career provided and what
was he trying to do?
Keep her barefoot and
pregnant in the
kitchen and
dependent
upon
him?

So
when she put the baby
in daycare full time and
he questioned her longer
absences she confessed the
truth about the classmates
she gave rides home years
ago and sobbed because
now she was just trying
to make everyone proud
and support their
family and wasn’t
he supposed to
forgive
her?

So
he admitted he wasn’t being
supportive and he forgave her
and quit his job to stay home with
the baby and kept himself happy counseling
others at church and little league
and Sunday School and friends
and family how to have a
great marriage and be
happy together like them
from the beginning,
how it was only possible
when you practice
radical honesty, and
radical forgiveness
out of genuine
love and respect
for each
other.

Hemingway’s Typewriter Guilty as Charged

He wasn’t home.

Only visitors,
empty chair,
empty room,
that
blank page
chambered in
his other weapon
locked and loaded,
in battery and
ready to fire,
with more triggers
than you have teeth
and a trigger press
heavier than a
shotgun trigger,
doing good time
behind bars
all day
all day long.

He wasn’t there.

More people than
birds
more birds than
cats
more cats than
chickens
more hens than
roosters
more roosters here than
people who ever knew they
paid to mingle with
ghosts who look like
cats
that sing like
birds
and groove like
chickens
that dodge sweaty
children
dodging crying
women because yes
he made them cry
but not now.
Now they roam the grounds
asking,
“When was he Vice-President?”
and
“Why did he live so close to a t-shirt store?”

He wasn’t home–
not even his ghost
–just a revenant
a wall decoration
a mis-spelled word
always out of time
fishing and drinking,
smiling and drinking,
fishing and smiling
and drinking
sideways and avuncular,
from here to Havana,
then back in Montana
that other other typewriter:
the single key
so light to press–
so why be here on a
sweaty day in the Keys
if they won’t even let you
swim in his pool?

The Expat-Terrible’s Perpetual Vow

On that day,
on my leaving
I will renew the passport;
I will buy the ticket,
embrace family and friends.
I will cry with my coiffeur
and his second husband, the
Republican. Yes, Republican.
I will buy the beret in that
window on Rodeo,
buy something, anything,
with extra tight pockets
and zippers in all
the wrong places.
I will go vegan to avoid
mayonnaise on french fries.
Finally learn the metric system
and how to love myself again.