Everything hurt, just as I recalled. She lay abandoned on the sidewalk, slumped beside a vestibule and beneath a defunct neon sign that read FREE AIR like a cruel joke. I laughed when I heard the terrier barking. The faint morning sun lit the bruises on her throat and caught in her hair. It dried her tear streaks and reflected the depth of her eyes.  That heavy gauge wire, once invisibly wrapped around her limbs, now lay discarded underneath her on the grimy pavement. It was thicker than I’d imagined.

As I recalled, she lay split open, gaping, undone. From my seat I watched Mark deconstruct her. He laid her out piece by piece, beginning with the delicate fabric of her ripped dress and her long-forgotten bag, a trove of its own, continuing with her deceptively thin limbs, her bloody fingernails, her recursive scratches, her oddly unharmed breasts, until she shrank to a mere collection of items, no longer a person at all. He gently arranged her parts on the sidewalk beneath the unlit neon sign.

As I took stock of her hurts my own body ached.

Mark laid aside her dress, baring her still swollen and dripping vagina, and shot me a sidelong look. “You okay?” he offered by way of condolence. I nodded, once, silently making an inventory of her pain.

He sipped his beer thoughtfully and broke the tension by splicing in an unsuspecting dog walker, that yapping terrier in tow. I couldn’t help giggling when the dog licked her face. Without so much as a look at the gore in front of him, the dog walker gave one last yank on the terrier’s leash and fled the scene, oblivious.

“Nice,” I mouthed.

Mark looked over, gave me a half smile, and kept going. Her body lay skeletal on the sidewalk, its pretenses strewn across the pavement, and for a moment I finally understood her. Gradually Mark began piecing her back together with the combination of a surgeon’s skill and an artist’s eye. He consulted my art book lying open on the table between us and replaced her bruises and scrapes artfully now. He wrapped the wires to accentuate her curves; he draped her dress from her jutting left hip and left just a trace of her wounded vagina showing at the edge of the hem. He arranged her tendrils around her unblinking eyes.

I watched as he brought up the sunlight, streaming it from the narrow gaps of sky above, drawing beams of it down to her, and I sucked in my breath when I saw what it did to her parts. Her hair, her silver eyes, her exposed skin all shone, yet her fingernails turned dirty, each scrape sank deeper, and the newly arranged wires cast dark shadows on her skin. The sun made sense of her pain. It brought her to life.

“Easy there,” he warned, sensing my tension. I watched, silent, and realized what I already knew. She was me. I filed that thought away for later and chugged some beer. Mark lit the neon sign and FREE AIR flashed fluorescent red above the beautifully gruesome scene.

“Perfect,” I grinned. On the screen, she lifted her head and smiled as if of her own free will.

Imagine this piece near the end of a complicated and surreal story. Soon it will be there.


cancer-cells_15Around here, they called him fucked up. He was real bad, Sam was. One look’id tell ya that: Cross-eyed, spike-haired, that freakin penguin tattoo on his shoulder. Ain’t nothin right bout Sam, only he was always smilin. He acted real nice so ya didn’t know how bad’e was til he gotcha.

When they got’im cuffed to their table, guards called him genetically damaged.

Sam always said what he got started in a cell. More like it started in his momma’s belly. One minute, sweet little baby growin all nice and then – wham! – ya know? Things get outta control in a hurry. That Sam, he bad news.

Sam used ta tell us bout his momma and him, and ya know, I’m gonna spare ya the story. His momma did him real bad, that’s all ya gotta know. Genetically damaged, remember that. I’ll spare ya the nightmares.

So, ya know, from time he was a kid, that Sam was real fucked up. That crazy momma of his never teach him nothing but crazy, and ‘fore long Sam was in deep shit. Killin little animals, settin fires, and worse. Makin a rabble, ya know.

That Sam liked to tell us bout his trouble-makin. It started real young and it ain’t stopped, even now. He love to talk, that Sam. Can’t ya just see’im up in’is cell, up ona top bunk holdin court like a king a fuckin England? Tough shit, he thought he was, Sam. Only’is penuin tattoo didn’t add up. He’d be loud a nuf so ya’d hear him down the block. His cell couldn’t even hold’im. He’d be spreadin around, for sure. Seepin out.

He liked ta tell this one story bout what he’d done ta get in prison ta begin with. He’d tell that goddamn story all the fuckin time, so’s it got ta the point I memorized it. I used ta tell’im ta write it down.

“That shit oughta be a movie, Sam,” I’d yell. We were neighbors.

Thing is, he used ta work at the Y. Lived there too, after’is momma got carted off. He was a fuckin janitor but he ain’t never clean nothin, ya know what I’m sayin. He liked ta spy on the ladies, that Sam. The time he got caught and thrown in here, he was hidin in a locker watchin the girls get dressed after Zumba, and lo and behold, some lady opened his locker.

That Sam, don’t ya know he got caught with’is dick in’is hand in front of a dozen half-naked girls in the locker room? Damn. It’s so funny I laugh every time.

Thing is, way Sam tell it, it was funny the first time, too. Those ladies didn’t scream none, nah, they busted out laughing at crazy Sam. And those ladies real strong, don’t ya know. They yanked’im outta the locker n tied him up with their bras.

Sam always liked ta say that when he got out he’d go back and get those ladies. He wanted a have’is way with them, and he had a special fuckin plan for each one a them. He’d always be talkin about it, spreadin hate from’is cell, gettin the new guys ta laugh, gettin us angry, getting us horny. Damn you, Sam.

Thing is, Sam talked a good deal, but he ain’t do nothin but spread hate like a disease, from one cell to another. Boys in there for real hard crime had more remorse than crazy Sam. And don’t ya know, Sam just talked all that remorse outta them boys. By the enda the day, Sam’d be sure all them boys be hatin those half-naked girls. Even me.

That Sam real fucked up. I don’t know why, but gettin laughed at by a buncha ladies really did’im in. Every day in prison he tried to laugh it off, but damn, that Sam was never the same again.


He be alright

mw05-600x400“He taught me how to read people’s eyes, ya know what I mean?” I lifted one a my tools, a heavy-ass poker, and moved toward the roarin fire. Flames curlin outta the fireplace. Damn, shit was hot.

“Nah, you don’t know nuthin, do ya, kid?” Kid cowered where I tossed him on the floor, shaking his skinny little white-boy ass off. He was scared. Real scared.

“Lemme tell ya, kid. My Pop, he a man, kid. A real MAN, ya know?” The tip of the poker got red-hot but I didn’t take it outta the fire yet. Kid whimpered.

“Pop, he work real hard, ya know? He did whatever he hada to keep the groceries comin in. He a MAN.” Kid eyed up the fire and trieda scoot back a little. Welts was comin up on his little ass, his butt-ugly face. Good.

“Pop was real nice mosta the time. He’da laugh at anythin, mosta the time. Momma n him’d be laughin upa God-damn storm mosta the time.” That gave me a laugh, rememberin dat. Poker was headin near orange already. Nice.

“But every once ina while, kid, Pop’d get angry. Somethin’d piss him off and he’d go off drinkin, stay away hours, days, once even weeks. Shit. Momma was half-dead time he took two weeks a come home. Shit.” Tipa the poker was blue. Kid cryin then, sad little screechy sound kinda gotta me. Didn’t stop me, though.

“So, times when Pop’d get angry, he got MEAN. Real mean. You ain’t never seen nuthin like it, kid.” Kid’s face was bleedin where I wooped him.

“Pop’d come bargin in, all drunk n shit, dirty, smellin like a barrel. Thing is, kid, Pop always dressed nice, clean, n he was always laughin, never mad. Till the drink got’m.” Memory kinda got me. Poker was hot n heavy.

“He’d come bargin in and first thing, he’d get Momma. She’d be screamin upa storm, putting upa fight like she did, and there was nuthin nobody could do, ya know?” Kid squirmed and whimpered. Underneath’m, a river a piss. Damn.

“Not nobody could stop him, kid,” I took a step closer to’m, makin a few slashes ina air wid the hot poker. Like Pop useda do.

“Big bro useta try’n protect me and all, ya know. Ya gotta big bro, kid?” Kid too far goneta talk. “He’d tell me go hide n all, but it ain’t never help. Pop always find me.” Swish, swish, closer to the kid.

“This one time, he gotta poker from the fire, like this one I got here,” I waved it right up in his pasty little face. Kid cryin real bad.

“Pop, he angry, he drunk, and he come lookin for me. He find me under the bed all crammed up in the corner. He drag me out, toss me around. Like you, kid,” I shot him a smile but kid don’t get it.

“He standin dere, holding the blue-hot poker, and he smilin. But his eyes ain’t smilin, ya know what I mean, kid? His eyes just dark and angry and fulla the Devil. Shit.” Kid tries to scootch sideways along the wall but it ain’t work. He too scared.

“Why’m I tellin ya this, kid? Ya don’t givea shit.” I gave’m a poke on’is ugly face and he yelped real loud. Another. Another. I went someplace else. I was stabbin him n runnin the poker down his skinny chest and his bony back. The lines showed up real nice on his white skin. I played around with’m, havin fun, laughin like Pop usedta, and I starteda wonder what my eyes were sayin.

northrupWhat are my eyes, sayin, kid? I didn’t ask it, though.  Just kept havin my way with him, makin him sing his sad wails, makin him piss again, makin him cry, over and over, everythin the same.

“Don’tya worry, kid,” I boomed in Pop’s voice. I laughed Pop’s laugh. “I ain’t gonna kill ya, kid.” Nah. Pop never killed me, did’e? Nah. Once a kid all marked up real nice, red lines criss-crossin and repeatin like mine, I all done wida torment. I cleaned off the poker like Pop useda, n put it away so kid don’t see it.

I cleaned’m up real nice, like Pop useda. I even sang’m those old spirituals, like Pop did. Everythin the same. I put the fire out n took’m back where I found’m.









You know what I mean

By the fifth day, the coffee may as well be tea. Day five the grounds are weak, wrung out, done in. By day five, the grounds have given it all they had. I despise the fifth day.

It’s Tuesday morning, day five, and I’m sipping my poor excuse for coffee by myself at my tiny kitchen table, when it comes back to me: The large table, the freshly squeezed orange juice, the glorious newspaper. And don’t forget the new coffee every single morning. We had it all.

Tuesday’s news is old news, but it even still it lies there filling my tiny table, begging my attention. You know I’m elsewhere, always elsewhere. I’m always with him, in our old life, our run-down shack of a castle, our love so tight it blocked out all the light. You know I never could read the paper, I always just looked at it.

farmhouse-kitchenToday, like every day, I’m right back there with him, a steaming-hot cup of first day coffee in my hand. I’m not reading, not seeing. When every day is day one, you feel nothing. Day one the windows are black. Day one and I’m back there in our real kitchen – real, real – I’m talking Viking range, glistening Bio-glass countertops, pristine doorless cabinets, Williams Sonoma stone-top double island, all of it.

He never wanted to talk. He liked his Business in peace, he liked to savor his coffee. He liked to admire his pretty scene as he flipped to the center spread. He preferred silence and I preferred him so I did what I had to. I sat pretty with my first day coffee and I liked it. He read Business while I kept up with pleasure.

My new place is small but cute. It’s got a patio and a picture window. My parkay floors that he would have hated, my velvet chaise in the corner that he’d have never even heard of. I’ve got a crystal chandelier that catches the light, and then there’s my table, small, round, and delicate. Here I am, stretched to the limit. I’m here, drinking day-five tasteless coffee because I can’t afford new beans. Here I am, still being elsewhere.

I took it until I couldn’t stand it. I shopped, I decorated, I even bought the fucking coffee beans. I put all the finishing touches on sweet reality. Don’t get me wrong, he kept up his end of the deal. He took care of Business. We gave it everything we had, but it wasn’t enough. You know what I mean, don’t you?

Somewhere around the 5,478th repetition of day one, I found myself sitting at that heavy Livingston dining table and I just couldn’t bear it. My patience was dwindling and I couldn’t see the sun. Powerlessness makes me angry, and I’m not proud of this, but I took my 5,478th cup of day-one coffee and poured it all over his Business section. It felt so good.

So now I’m here, in my new place. I’ve got a little shelf over the sink with a mirror and a couple of knickknacks; I’ve got the music going and the picture window is uncovered all the time. I can see it now: The sun in the sky, the blossom on the trees. Freedom is mine.

Still, I can’t enjoy it. I gave it all I had and I’m totally broke. You know how I feel. I’m drinking tea for coffee and what’s worse, tomorrow is day one.


via DeviantArt
via DeviantArt

There is no warning rattle at the door, or perhaps I’m in too deep to hear you invade the keyhole with your key, too far gone to hear the scrape of metal against metal. Either way, I’m down so deep I can barely move: I have no warning. You appear before me silently with a candle and a dark smile, holding a small metal bowl, which you set down carefully on the floor.

You circle me, examining me, clawing at me with your eyes. You tug my wrists strung behind my back, you pull my ponytail where it dangles, you run your hands down my spread legs to the shackles and bar at my ankles. You aggravate my hurts and I moan.

You enter my plane of vision and ravage the silence with a growl.

“I’m going to use you.”

I nod and mumble in agreement.

You slip a small knife from your pocket. You loom and cut the rope at my wrists. You let my arms fall to my sides.

I breathe.

You pocket your knife and snatch my hair in one hand. With your other hand you slap my face. Once, twice. A third time, and my face is stinging. I am awake now, you’ve seen to that.

I blink. Your small candle casts eerie shadows around the room.

You abandon my face and travel to my shoulders, which you take firmly into your hands. I find myself at the juncture of clavicle and phalanges. I smile.

You shove me to the cold, hard stone without another word; you watch me watch you deliberately undo your pants. You watch me watch you.

At last, “Open your mouth,” you whisper. I do, and you commence your ministrations. You push me, pull me, you fight me. You play with my breath, you take what’s yours and you steal what’s mine. I am forced out of myself. You persist at my mouth until you take matters into your own hands; your efforts culminate in a hot, wet arc that says it all.

Afterwards I am hot and wet. Afterwards my knees hurt. Afterwards I smile. I am here for your pleasure.

“Bedtime,” you say not unkindly as you replace your clothing. I wait for you to make your way back up the stairs, your quiet hum echoing in the gloomy chamber like a prelude to the slam of the heavy door. The scrape of metal against metal startles me now.

When I’m sure that you’re gone, I use my hands to support my weight as I flip my bound legs around to the front, a feat not so easy to accomplish. My hurts complain. I sit, naked, legs still shackled and splayed before me on the stone floor: I am a bird on a wire. I reach for the small metal dish you’ve left. I am hungry and I dig into the food with my bare fingers, enjoying my sustenance.

Later, as the small candle wears down and sleep threatens, I memorize the shadows. I take note of the size and shape of the empty dish next to me on the floor. A dog bowl, I think with my last few strands of consciousness.

My laugh echoes in my dreams.

Shopping is a religion


Portia burst through the heavy glass doors of Saks with a toss of her new Giverny-blue Kate Spade handbag on her right shoulder, nearly prancing. She was overjoyed that Sven hadn’t yet thought to cancel her credit card, the one that she had flashed at the handbag counter to make her dream of the moment reality.

Portia skipped out onto the sidewalk with her new robin’s-egg–blue, satchel-shaped handbag on her shoulder and caught a glimpse of her reflection in the plated glass of the window, her perfectly coiffed hair just catching in the breeze, her sundress clinging to her curves, her new shades adding that certain je ne sais quois, she thought in French. I’d fuck me, Portia thought in English.

Portia made her way to a café and used Sven’s credit card to treat herself to an iced tea and a pastry, which she nibbled bewitchingly at an outdoor table, her legs crossed femininely and her new handbag displayed prominently on the wrought-iron table. As she nibbled, Portia began to consider her future. Sven’s credit card would not last forever. As she nibbled, Portia admired the 14-karat-gold hardware on her new purse and admitted to herself that she was a horrible person.

What kind of a girl steals from her ex-boyfriend, Portia thought with a flash of clarity. She sipped her tea and felt hot tears in her eyes. She watched the other girls parading along the thin strip of sidewalk, their legs gently brushing Portia’s table. Each girl carried a stunning handbag on one arm and a stunning boyfriend on the other. Why can’t I have both, Portia asked herself with a little whimper. She examined herself in the translucent glass once more. I’m hideous, Portia realized. She saw her dyed hair with its frizzy ends, her fake-red lips, her nose that was too big for her face, and she let the tears fall behind her shades.

Truth was, Portia missed Sven big time. He was hot, he was kind. Portia liked being his girl. Sven, you asshole, I can’t replace you, she argued with him in her head as she picked at the last few crumbs of her pastry. She wiped her hands before running her fingertips over her new bag. She unzipped it a little and stuck her overly large nose inside to savor that new purse smell that she loved so much, but not as much as she loved Sven. I’m a wreck, Portia admitted to herself, a bit surprised. She wasn’t used to experiencing such deep feelings. She reached into her purse and retrieved a tissue, which she surreptitiously used to wipe her tears.

Portia stood, hung her new purse from her elbow and in an uncharacteristic move of self-awareness, lifted her plate and glass to return them. After depositing the dishes inside, she wandered down the busy sidewalk, slowly now, and thinking only of Sven. One block past the café, Portia tossed Sven’s credit card into a trash bin. Two blocks from the café, a young man suddenly appeared in front of Portia. Appeared, she insisted later that afternoon, on the phone with her mom, appeared out of nowhere.

The young man appeared, Portia was certain. One moment no one was in front of her, then – Poof! – there he was. Tall, thin, and shaggy, she described for her mom, later. He had none of Sven’s fastidious good looks. In their place, Portia said, was a dark jacket, too heavy for the weather, a nice leather cross-body bag, thick frames, and an expression of utter and complete wonder. The expression really got to Portia, who was still overcome with self-hatred and desperate longing. What could possibly be so great, she wondered angrily.

For a moment their eyes locked: His dark brown, hers blue, and infinity passed between them. Portia, unaccustomed to the sensation of genuine human connection, looked down and noticed a flashing remote control in his hand. Yes, a remote control, Mom, she insisted, later. I think I know the difference between a phone and a remote, seriously, she insisted. A moment later, he disappeared. Disappeared, Portia emphasized, later. These things happen sometimes, sweetie, her mom comforted, later.

The moment after he disappeared, Portia lifted her sunglasses to blink at the empty sidewalk before her, replaced them with a shrug, and tossed her lovely new handbag over her shoulder. Just like that, she felt beautiful again. Just like that, Portia forgave herself. She never looked back, she just kept walking.


Another little visit from the lovely and oh-so-alluring Portia for this week’s Speakeasy.

Aftertones of infinity

Until the day I die, I’ll never forget those glassy, unblinking eyes. It’s funny how no one else seemed to notice, because I did right away. The moment I stepped in front of the mirror and lifted my toothbrush, I noticed those dark glassy eyes, and I knew something was very wrong. The moment I stepped in front of the mirror and blinked I knew nothing would ever be quite right again. The moment I stepped in front of the mirror and noticed that my eyes did not blink back in the reflection, I knew I was in trouble.

What do you do when you step in front of the mirror and realize that your eyes are not your own? I’ll tell you what I did. I laughed. I laughed out loud and I blinked and blinked again. I laughed and I looked at my unblinking reflection and I decided right then and there that I was up for anything. Count me in, I said. Because, fuck it, when you wake up early to glassy, unblinking eyes in the mirror and no fucking clue what the hell is going on, what else can you do but laugh?

Right then and there, I signed the contract. I waived liability. I agreed to anything. Brushing my teeth proved relatively easy but doing my hair took a few tries. I didn’t even attempt to exert any will over my wardrobe. I softened my gaze and put on what felt natural, which turned out to be a long white peasant skirt and a skimpy black top that complimented my glassy gaze.

One last glance in the mirror revealed infinity. I took a careful step back in those heels – the ones I hardly ever put on because they trip me up – and I headed out for the day. When you find that what you see in the mirror doesn’t match your face, work doesn’t seem so important anymore. In fact, I could think of only one place to go, so I skipped work and headed for the Modern wing. What, that doesn’t make sense to you? Fuck off. I needed to find myself somewhere.

After a bit of wandering, I found navigating easier than usual. I floated down the soaring hallways and through the dim galleries. When my eyes were not my own, my heels no longer tripped me up. I found myself there, in the Spanish abstractions, in the sallow faces looking back at me from American Gothic. I found myself in Picasso’s cubes, I found myself in nails on a black cross. I found myself in wood and canvas.

After I got the hang of finding myself, I floated backwards to the Middle Ages. There, I found myself in a gold-rimmed engraving by Dürer. When five o’clock rolled around, I wasn’t ready to leave. They found me sitting on a bench where I could keep an eye on my eyes. I put up a fight for the security guards; I dug my heels in and screamed. It took three guys to restrain me, only they didn’t know that it was already too late. I’d signed that contract, remember? All in means all in, so here I am.

What’s that, doctor? You want to help me? Can’t you see that I’m just fine? Look at my eyes, look how they match what’s in the mirror now. What’s not to understand? Here I am, all yours. No, I’m not afraid. Fuck it all, doc, can’t you hear me laughing?


Her heart in his hand

laboratoryDr. Jeremiah Longlove found his cellar laboratory chilly in the mornings. This particular morning, a Tuesday, the sun hung low, cloaked by heavy clouds beyond his half-height casement window.

Dr. Longlove’s cellar laboratory lay at the bottom of a steep flight of stone steps, lit only by half-molten candles and heavy with despair. Glass bottles lined wooden shelves, bottles that contained the elixers of life, according to Jeremiah Longlove: Strontium salicylate for healing skin ailments, Capille pellets for facilitating balance, worm lozenges for irritable bowels, p. Conii powder for alleviating depression, and his precious indigo, as good for cooling a fever as for curing blindness. His ever present and immaculate mortar and pestle stood at the ready in one corner.

Along the far wall, Dr. Longlove had arranged his tools and devices on hooks in order by size. At the far left hung a large, well-sharpened pair of shears, followed by his other implements, gradually descending to his tiniest glistening scalpel. Each and every tool had a special place in Jeremiah Longlove’s heart. Dr. Longlove’s cellar laboratory was his pride and joy, second only to his abiding passion for Angela, his longtime mistress and love, who currently lay dead on the operating platform before him.

Dr. Longlove vastly preferred using the operating platform for fucking his beautiful mistress. Her untimely death due to an unfortunate bathtub accident and today’s autopsy came as a surprise and a shock. Jeremiah couldn’t seem to look at his poor helpless patient without seeing her in their favored position: Bent over the table, her legs spread to receive a pounding from behind as he yanked her head back and kissed her long and deep. No, her death couldn’t have come at a worse moment, just hours before their next regularly scheduled tryst.

Dr. Jeremiah Longlove walked round his patient, who lay before him naked and exposed to the cool morning light. Jeremiah regretted the brutal scene, wherein Angela’s chest lay split open, her heart conspicuously missing from the gaping wound. The sight of his angel ripped to shreds, such as she was, simply broke his heart.

Just then, the clouds shifted, casting an ominous shadow on the ground. Jeremiah turned his attention to his scale, which at the moment held Angela’s heart, bloody and raw. The arrow on the scale pointed squarely at 300—300 grams, that was. Jeremiah permitted himself a small smile, more out of relief than anything else, at the discovery that his love’s heart was in fact a bit on the small side. This, Jeremiah realized, surely explained why Angela would never take him up on his offer to elope.

Jeremiah lovingly replaced his mistress’s heart in her chest cavity and whispered in her ear, “If only I could put you back together and reset you.” He moved on, separating her liver from deep within her corpse. He slipped the organ into the weighing tray. He must press on; his schedule required it.

“Finally, I can see you crystal clear,” Jeremiah murmured to what remained of his soul mate. Suddenly he became overcome with grief and gripped his own chest. Pain coursed through his upper body—sympathy pain, he surmised. He had done research on such matters. Dr. Longlove ripped open his waistcoat and shirt to reveal bloody tracks mimicking Angela’s.

“The scars of your love, Angela,” Jeremiah reasoned. It made perfect sense. He limped to his shelves to locate the appropriate balm, all the while shivering in the chilly air.


Nothing ever ends

“Tell me if you’re game.” You leaned against your rusted-out Mustang wearing ripped jeans, a gray t-shirt, flip-flops, and a smirk. One thumb thrust in the direction of your passenger seat, your invitation. A wrecking ball loomed in the lot behind you like a prophecy.

I stood in the doorway, with my torn black nightie slipping off one shoulder, my feet in the bunny slippers you’d given me as a joke for my birthday, frowning. I leaned against the heavy apartment door and gave you a long look. “I told you to be patient.”

“Get in,” you said.

“Like this?” My voice broke as I pointed to my slippers with my free hand. I rolled my eyes and tried not to cry.

The street began waking up, kids gleeful for yet another sunrise shooting by between us on skateboards, shattering our universe with their screams. The sun glinted off your car and got in my eyes. All these signs of reality, and all I could focus on was the tool of destruction in the background. Construction workers silently sipped coffee at its haunches.

“Who will love you?” you asked.

“I’ll be fine.” My tears broke their surface tension.

Unbidden memories replayed themselves in my blurred vision: Our first date, not a real date, just two hungry people eating, according to me. You sat across from me in our booth, singing me sad songs. Late-night drives out of town, you with only one hand on the wheel.  Our Saturday afternoon beach habit, always followed by furtive sex on sandy towels in your backseat. Sunday morning sing-a-thons in the kitchen. And fighting. Everywhere, always, fighting. Laughing followed by fighting followed by make-up sex followed by more laughing. Relationships are complicated.

“You’re going to love California,” I said. Crying made my voice shrill.

“You’re crying,” you actually sounded surprised. For a moment I believed you; then, that smirk played on your lips. “Wipe those tears off your face.” So quick with a joke.

Truth is, your love shredded me. Even from the start you undid me. You never knew your effect on me.  Standing there on the front stoop, staring at the sunlight in your hair, something shifted inside me and self-preservation won out. I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand.

“Be kind,” I told you with a sigh.

You shrugged and fussed with something inside the car.

Finally you finished and gave me a little salute before circling around to the driver’s seat. I pretended to smile. My hand hurt where it had been pressed against the door. When I looked, chipped blue paint was stuck to my palm, the first sign of my mistake.

A couple hours later, you called me from the road and told me jokes until my stomach hurt from laughing. Good thing you couldn’t see that I was crying at the same time.

“I love you,” you said as you hung up.

“I love you, too,” I whispered after you were gone.

After the first few weeks, you stopped calling.

I spent the rest of the summer lying around the depressingly bare apartment in my bunny slippers watching the wreckage unfold across the street and waiting for fall to come and start me over. I barely noticed the nausea until the new foundation was in across the street and the leaves began to pile up where your car had once been.


Girls like Grover Cleveland


The address turned up above a metal door with chipped green paint at the end of a dark alley. To buy a few minutes, I messed with my lipstick, which was down to the dregs.

“I’m supposed to ask for Ignacio,” I said to the fat guy who answered the door. I pulled aside my leather jacket to show the bare skin between my breasts.

The dude opened the door wide enough for me to pass. I left the chilled alley and stepped inside. A black fox with a white-tipped tail greeted me from the wall. The heavy spice of cigar smoke from the table did its best to cover the smell of death. I took my time shedding my jacket. Opera seeped from the back.

“Iggy, your girl’s here,” the bouncer announced.

The guys were old and heavy lidded. Something comes over old smart dudes with money to burn. It’s almost like they turn into zombies.

“Hello, gentlemen,” I cooed. They liked that. I leaned forward and rested my scantily clad chest on their table and ran my hands over the pile of cash in the middle.

Ignacio smiled around his cigar and turned to eye me up. I inhaled his smoke with a grin. “Watch it, young lady,” he glowered at me. “You have a job to do.”

“Yes, sir,” I licked my lips when I smiled. Zombie on the other side pulled out his cigar, then leaned in and ran the wet end between my breasts. Luck was on my side.

I stood up and moved toward my little podium with a bronze dance pole in the center. This was a first, stripping to opera.

“Can one of you gentlemen fill me in on the rules?” I made my voice all innocence and honey. I batted my lashes at zombie dude for good measure. He death rattled deep in his throat. “Honey, you gotta line ‘em up, make a match, or get outta here,” he stared at my breasts. Girl’s best friends.

“What’s the minimum?” I slurped, shaking slowly along with the opera.

“Fifty for newbies,” the dealer shot out.

“Maybe someday,” I replied wistfully, feeling more like a sculpture than a stripper. The zombies went around calling and raising. No one folded. Fifteen minutes in I was down to just my thong and heels. I pretended the arias were dance numbers and worked my shoulders and hips. An hour passed like that, maybe more, and my feet began to burn. To distract myself, I thought about gene expression for my bio exam Monday.

I stepped off the podium to give the zombies what they were paying for, and right then Puccini came on. Maria Callas’ voice made the perfect accompaniment to my own.

“I can never remember,” I said, doing my best to sound thoughtful. “What comes first, Queen or King?” Several of the zombies laughed around their cigars at that one and the smoke hung over the pot.

I made the rounds, breaking hearts with Maria, careful not to touch any old guy parts. When I got to Ignacio, he smiled and laid down his cards, thoroughly enjoying the close proximity. “Young lady, you are to die for,” he said in my ear, then reached into the pile of money in the center of the table. “This is for you,” he announced, and then flung a bill into the hazy air. The crisp G-note hung there in its little two-dimensional plane of reality, Grover Cleveland’s face superimposed over the watery-eyed zombies, all clamoring for a look as I reached across dimensions for my reward.

It fluttered for a moment, magnificent in its struggle, then wilted and lay still. With my red-tipped fingers, I grabbed it. “Thank you, sir,” I gave him a quick smile. I shoved the money into my handbag, pulled on my dress, and slowly put on my jacket.

“Good evening, gentlemen. Maybe one day you’ll let girls play,” I laughed. They snorted collectively. It was kind of cute.

I waltzed to the door, nodded to the fox, and slipped through the gap that the bouncer dude offered. I headed back down the alley and stopped to peek at the money inside my bag. It was enough for this month’s tuition bill plus a little left over. Dumb as it sounds, all I wanted was a new lipstick.