The Reckoning II

The evening is unseasonably warm. His feet are bare and his shirt is off when he strolls to the security console in his study to answer a call at the front gate.

When he turns on the camera, a tall, young man stands in a pool of light.

—Yes, who is it?

—Good evening, Jimmy.

—I’ll ask once more. Who are you?

The tall, young man steps forward, leans in and down a bit. Puts his face right next to the camera.

—You know me. We met on the street one night in 1968.

—Piss off. Jimmy says, ending the call before plodding away from the security panel, he doesn’t make time for wasters like this one.

—I think you’d better talk to me, Jimmy.

Jimmy stops. Ending the call blocks further harassment. Maybe it’s not working? Jimmy knows better, but something about the young man’s tone, to say nothing of his audacity, really rubs Jimmy the wrong way.

—Listen up, lad. Get your bloody ass off my stoop or I’ll have it thrown in jail. I’m not fucking you around, this is the last I’ll say about it.

The young man continues to stare into the camera, unblinking for a good ten seconds.

—Be seeing you. He says, stepping away. He takes a few strides toward the street, stops. Looks over his shoulder at the camera, at Jimmy watching through it, and smiles. Then starts to dance, his body flowing gracefully, before spinning like a figure skater. His form pulls into itself, tighter and tighter, a dark cylinder, a pole, a line. The line sinks into the street, vanishing.

 

 


The Scars

Marty has tried all kinds of tactics to get Alyssa to shake that expression, to smile, look relaxed, or at least look like nothing serious is wrong. It doesn’t help that Jeremy is a natural at seeming natural. Adding to the problem is Marty just being himself. From long or short distances, Marty resembles a short, plump, tanned vampire with feathered brown hair. He stares at Alyssa the same way he stares at everyone: With unblinking, pin-hole eyes, a grinning mouth that is perpetually open as if his lips can’t close over his large teeth.

Marty turns his full attention on whoever is talking, even moves in closer, seemingly without moving his legs. He studies and nods ever so slightly, encouraging one to say more with little grunts and slow lip-licks, as if every word brings him closer to a feast. Meanwhile, his hands rub one another at a ball in front of his chest.

For someone who doesn’t want to be looked at, Marty is a nightmare. I could tell from the moment Alyssa arrived on set with Jeremy and the Army relations trio, she was forcing herself to do this. Forcing herself to get up that morning, shower, put on clothes, comb hair, toothbrush, car keys, give your name, shake the hands, nod, listen, nod, stand in light, smile, say words you don’t believe into a black hole that absorbs you whole.


The Abyss

A nightmare wakes me.

Stuck to my sheets, breathing hard, the last images from the nightmare slowly bleach away: sloping cliffs surrounding a lake of dark, brackish water in sharp contrast to the pale, blue sky above. From the shore I watch the lake begin to bubble, as if boiling. A whirlpool forms in the center of the lake, sucking in water, growing larger until its pull reaches the shores around it. Then I was the whirlpool, sucking in the water, could feel the water filling my bowels, all the way up to my mouth, before descending into my lungs.

Right away, I have a bad feeling. Seems I’ve left most the lights on in my apartment. The wood ceiling and floors glisten, as if also sweating. I get up from the futon in my living room and turn off the swamp cooler.

The apartment becomes still. No crickets or traffic or trains moaning in the night, no neighbors creaking through the walls on either side of me. Just silence. I sit on the futon, surveying the apartment. Glancing at the red numbers of my digital clock makes me feel a little better, 2:11 AM. That could explain the silence.

My stomach continues to sink, though.

I head across the great room to the kitchen side, one of two darkened spots in the apartment. The other is my bedroom, where I watch tv. My stomach protests. The glass brick in my kitchen is black, which is also peculiar. I should see light from the sodium lamps placed throughout the courtyard below. No light, though, not even ambient light. I flip the toggle on the old light switch in the kitchen, it clicks and the light goes on. I open the refrigerator, standing by itself between glass brick columns. More light, my groceries from a trip to the store I don’t remember.

 

 


The Recipe

There’s a knock on the door in my head, a voice speaks through the door: Ask yourself: what do you know about this person?

It’s easy to forget we met just four months ago because meeting her has been the biggest event in my life to this point. Not that I haven’t had things happen to me. It’s just the things I’ve experienced don’t fit the bill of what most would share.

I can’t put on a dating profile that I supported myself for a year working as an arsonist-for-hire. I can’t bring up at parties that while secretly squatting in the basement of the house my estranged mother uses for her psychology practice, I saw her having sex twice, after choosing unfortunate hiding places. (I still can’t think of her by her given name, Marjorie. She’s Beverly in my head, for reasons I can’t revisit—again, that therapist would come in handy.)

Rachel comes along, and BAM. All of a sudden the random goop of my life means something. It has a center around which I can organize myself. I get to see, first hand, how a successful person engineers their life. I see what proactive participation looks like, so endless drift doesn’t take root and cast runners into every plot of one’s thinking, like it has mine.

Another, more immediate reason Rachel has been so big in my life is that I’d always considered myself a below average person in every way: physically, mentally, and spiritually. I now see that this diminished estimation of myself has become the crutch I use to stagnate on. During one of our first dates, Rachel said something that really stuck with me: People are like plants, they grow to fill the space they inhabit. I realized at that moment I’d been keeping myself in a small, plastic pot my whole life.


The Confession

—Yeah. She makes me nervous. I think about her a lot. Like all the time. I wonder what she’s thinking and feeling. What’s she eating for breakfast? Why did she cut all her hair off last month? Was it because of the pregnancy? Does it have something to do with her not wearing a wedding ring anymore? And it’s none of my business, except I can’t stop wondering.

—Sometimes we become fixated.

—Is it sinful to become fixated on someone?

—Not necessarily. It depends on the contents of associated thoughts and feelings that accompany one’s fixation, and how one acts on those thoughts and feelings. What you describe doesn’t sound sinful to me—

—Father, I’ve only scratched the surface here, I don’t have much time—have you seen the line outside—

—Don’t worry about the line—

—Well, OK. Why is she driving an older car now? Why all the dresses? It must be more comfortable for her, right? And the dresses change how she feels when she leans over me from behind, her body against mine, which makes me feel like I’m dissolving. Like my spirit is free of all this shit. And when she places her stool behind me and puts her hands on my hands and her breath blows against my neck, I smell cinnamon and clove from the chai she drinks and her knees are so pale and smooth, Father, one on each side of me and this is the true serendipity, this is the ecstasy the saints and sinners wrote down before they died horrible deaths they welcomed with open arms because getting an erection in parachute pants hurts. Do you know how many zippers there are in parachute pants? It’s fucked up.

—How is it you’re wearing parachute pants?

—Ms. Tula lets us free dress, she doesn’t believe in uniforms.

Father Corbin chuckles, —Yes, of course she doesn’t. Watch the language.

 

 


The Shirt

My eyes land on Jeanine Bennet, who smiles at me and gives a little wave. Goddamn. Jeanine’s one of the women that continues to get more attractive with age. She’s had a couple kids, a couple divorces, some crooked contractors blew up her fucking house last year and none of it matters. Jeanine persists. She’s rocking an old pair of jeans today. She’s stuffing her lunch a bit, seams of her jeans are working for their bread. I love it.

Not like I lust after Jeanine. Merrin lost all her baby weight and then some. Now she looks like an adolescent boy just returned home after a long, bloody civil war. It’s not really a look that inspires desire.

I realize that Jeanine isn’t caucasian, she must be Middle Eastern or Latina. Then her eyebrows pop up, as if a question and all at once it hits me that she’s giving me a WTF look. I’ve been staring at her, she’s noticed. I laugh, shake my head, twirl an index finger at my temple. She nods, laughs.

Shit, that was a good save. I look down at the ground, I’m kicking the same collection of knobby twigs. They look like old finger bones.

The crunch of Merrin’s wheels are behind me. Then they stop. I turn around. Merrin’s right beside me, staring at me.

—Did you hear me, Theo? She says.

—Obviously, I didn’t, Merrin. I wouldn’t ignore you.

—Well, maybe if you’re done with your little moment now, you can help me.

Technically, this might be a lie. I would ignore her intentionally, and in fact, do on a regular basis. If she didn’t talk to me like this, it’d be harder for me to justify.

—Why don’t you let me carry Brixton?

—So, you did hear me. Why are you like that?

I go for Brixton. —I’ll do it, she snaps, pushing past me. Merrin gingerly lifts Brixton out of the stroller and bounces him on her hip. He stares off into oblivion.


The Bros

Hank notes that Kimboo wears a glorious pair of forest green velvet pants that sport a gusset crotch which hangs down to Kimboo’s knees.

At a table in the corner of the cafe, Kimboo puts a phone on the table and plays Neil Young’s album, On the Beach.

—You got money? Kimboo says.

—Yes.

—From where?

—I work.

—Doing what?

—I’m a back-end engineer.

—I’ve got Phallust, but it’s gonna cost you.

—Great. Can I buy two? I have a roommate.

—If you have ten grand, you can have two.

—Awesome.

—You guys close? Because you’re about to get real close if you aren’t already.

—Why would that happen? Hank says.

Kimboo considers Hank for a second. —Phallust doesn’t just change your body. It changes how you live. It’s not for the faint of heart. Literally, do you know how much blood it takes to keep a penis of that size erect? Make sure you think about that. I’ve read what people who have taken it are saying.

—What are you saying?

—Knowing what I know now, I still would’ve done it. But I would’ve relocated to a different city first. Somewhere I didn’t know anyone and I could more fully explore myself in a way that I can’t here. Does that make sense?

Hank regards Kimboo. —No, not really.

Kimboo smiles at Hank. —Hank, would you consider yourself a deep thinker?

—Deep? Like, feet or meters or something?

Kimboo laughs out loud.

 


The Humanist

When someone at church gets sick and dies, I move in with tenderness and a bag full of compassionate cash pooled from an ad hoc investment group I cobble together of high end clients.

Then one day, there’s a knock on my office door.

—Hello neighbor.

—Congratulations, Chris. I say. —It’s about time they moved you out of rookie row.

—I don’t need a fancy office if the commission is fair. She says.

—When does that ever happen? I smile at her and wait, actually wanting her to answer that.

—Word around the office is you are transitioning. She says.

—That could mean several things, what are you asking?

Chris laughs. That’s when I know she wants something from me. I consider telling her “I don’t mean to be rude, but I need to get back to it.” Instead, I smile and say nothing.

—I heard you’re moving into investment banking. I’m trying to make a similar move and I’m curious about how you did yours.

—I didn’t do it. God did.

—Are you serious?

It occurs to me I don’t know and I’m OK with that. —I don’t know. Maybe. Let’s do lunch sometime, I’ll share what I know.

—I was hoping we might get a drink tonight. Are you free after work?

I’d rummaged over scenarios like this many times. Chris leans against the frame of my office door, arms at her sides, waiting. A couple dudes round the corner on the way to the elevator. Chris turns her head to see who it is and I take the opportunity to check out her body.

My body flushes as I realize I’ve never seen Chris standing before. She’s much taller than I’d expected. I also note the hair on her arms is quite dark. Plus, she wasn’t wearing a mask, so I can clearly see she’s hot. My imagination has nothing to do as far as Chris LaPenn is concerned. Go ahead, take the day off imagination, I got this.

I’d remembered our compliance training from earlier in the week. I should say no to Chris. Enjoying a drink with a coworker is frowned upon unless both parties are participating in a strictly professional manner. Just because everybody does it, doesn’t make it right. Was one of the slogans from the video.

Fuck that shit.

—Where we headed, Chris?

 


The Grievers

The wife and her parents did not get up to join the husband. They sat and whispered. The wife nodded and wiped her eyes. From time to time, the wife’s eyes would meet the server’s and she would smile. The server liked this. Two times, as she passed the server on her way to the restroom, she placed a hand on the server’s shoulder, thanking the server for such caring service.

A table cleared of plates spurred questions about dessert. The wife looked down, or away, or up at the ceiling. The server sensed she wanted to be finished with this business involving her parents and friends, who were making plans for a visit to the casino outside of town.

Having long ago established who would pay the bill, the server approached the husband for the first and only time. The husband paid in cash, dessert forgotten. Many joined the husband for a final drink. Outside, the wind carried clouds over the sun, moving the day in and out of focus. The front door of the restaurant creaked open and closed as grievers departed. Those remaining pooled around vacant tables all over the restaurant.

She put a hand on the server’s stomach from behind. The server turned. Again, the wife thanked the server for the caring service. Then she pulled the server against her body. The server reciprocated, uncertain and giddy. As their embrace continued, the server became worried. But no one seemed to notice them.

The wife kissed the server’s neck. Her body moved in a way that felt impossible. Bursts of sunlight turned the tables near the windows into beating hearts. The server’s legs began to tremble against a tray, the water glasses placed close together responded with melodic singing. The server watched the husband lean over the bar and whisper into the bartender’s ear. She nodded, wrote on a slip of paper, and handed it to him. The husband took her hand and kissed it. The boy stared up from his dark circles in the middle of dead grass.

 

 


The Carnage

Shit. One of a thousand things I don’t understand about the relationship between my moms: all the weirdly neurotic competitiveness.

—Oh, well, I’m trying to figure out how it works. Do you want to help me?

—Well, I was just gonna ask you if you wanted to go with me to the farmer’s market.

I’ve told Brue all week I’m gonna go with her to the goddamn farmer’s market. Why do I do it? Because there is something of interest at the farmer’s market. Like a gambler hooked on Aces High scratch tickets from a first-time $150 win, I agreed to go hoping to see my couple again.

The Public Fuckers. I’m guessing they’re about my age, mid-twenties, dressed in pastels that would make any 80s fangirl yearn. They squished their bodies into a nook on the back side of the large structure that houses a lending library and exposed only their hands and genitals while jacking each other off. There was something so obscene about them that I couldn’t’ve left even if I’d wanted to. So pale, both of them, their genitalia so bulbous and out of proportion to their slender bodies that they almost look like prosthetics.

They saw me when I stepped on a twig trying to get out of the squatting position I was in when they showed up. I was peeing under some kind of drooping tree, and froze, my panties suspended around my thighs when they started in on each other. Upon looking over at me, I put my index and middle fingers to my eyes, then pointed at them, urging them with a single nod, keep going.

They did. With renewed—albeit a touch performed—enthusiasm. The young man ejaculated on a nearby bush. His semen hung on the branches like weird tree tinsel you might find at the farmer’s market. The young woman made the young man sit, so she could plant a foot on his thigh, and get her hips into it. Her butt was quite muscular, I was transfixed by her jumping gluts until I realized she was staring over her shoulder at me. I felt obligated to reciprocate somehow, but masturbation isn’t interesting to me. Why fiddle with all that flesh down there when I could be doing, oh I dunno, anything else?