Slide

Slide

The climb up

fills

every step seems

to soak up through

and build from the sole

to the soul

so that it’s not higher

but more than

greater

above a tally of

numbers

incalculable

What can’t be seen

or figured

when stared up at

from the negative

Equal and opposite

up and down

every contraction

a waiting relaxation

resistance

to elevating

The view from the

peak

mind piqued

that this is the same air

how

when it feels different

less pressure than

on the ground

that can’t be

The ground is waiting

to prove

the thesis

Up is fleeting

Down is stasis

The slide is

inevitable

Only friction

the coefficient

we collude

to ignore

or ennoble

Bottom collecting

its specimens

to return

to the path

For another climb

Rolling and Action

Setting the Stage

 

Take it in
Or move it down
Inside your brain
Swallowed sound

Of raging voices
Screaming truths
Convinced of lack
Inked with proof

A game of words
Pronouns defend
Lighted eyes
Deferred send

Now you see
Body real
Indulging full
The hurt you feel

A twist of truth
A curl of cuts
Under lights
Marks and ruts

In the veneer
Of… fine
And talk later
…Sometime

Good to relate
Walk in shoes
Laced to go past
And forward, a ruse

Lit with love
And real passion
Audio dubbed
Broadcast captioned

Back to base
Edit for use
See what’s there
In flesh, not obtuse

It’s a brilliant idea
Shy short on conception
Third act falls apart
Only basement perfection

Still a story to tell
Commit to these players
Immersed in this world
Of witches and sooth-sayers

Learning to trust
Willing to believe
The feelings will endure
A nervous reprieve

Rolling and action
only mean start
to the ones pretending
not the ones staged apart

Malina and Grizella

For the two incredible women who walked with me through this year.

This is the introduction to Malina and Grizella, the warriors of my imagination.

 

Photography by the author.

Malina was still curled into herself and asleep when smelled the smoke. Her legs started moving before her mind did. There had been fires here before: cigarettes, an iron, and once a disturbed Iranian girl who simply loved the red glow of a client’s gold zippo and what it could do. That damaged girl and her tender scars had also briefly slept on Malina’s couch. She remembered all this before her head left the pillow and her legs started to process the motor action needed to run away. When she smelled the clove beneath the smoke, her body stopped and her eyes opened. The woman and her dark cigarette stood in Malina’s doorway.

“Out in the hallway. Don’t wake her,” Grizella said.

The smoking taskmaster finished her order and then she shut the door. Malina closed her eyes and let her body return to its automatic muscle responses that would get her out of bed and then out the door; let her body face what her brain would ignore. Her arms functioned on instinct to pull on a robe. They weren’t supposed to be in the halls in their underwear.

Grizella had placed herself, all six feet of her pipe-thin frame, only inches outside the door. Malina had to flatten herself, back against the door, to pass through. Grizella wasn’t about to move or make anyone else’s life easier.

“How much?” Grizzled asked, staring down at her. Grizella’s eyes were red and there was a scratch on her forehead. The make-up didn’t mask everything. “How much?” Grizella demanded.

Malina’s mind flipped through the meaning or possibly the translation of this. It wasn’t money. As a legal maneuver, years ago they started sending someone to meet the men outside the rooms. The girls never actually touched the cash or even witnessed the exchanges. So, it wasn’t money.

“How much what?” Malina asked.

“All you girls here, you think I don’t know things?”

The drugs. Malina crossed her arms over her chest, trying to fold herself deeper into her robe. She tried to forge a map in her mind – where her pills were in her purse, how to get to them and then get rid of them in the fastest, most direct route. She’d never make it.

Grizella did not like drugs. Selling them was fine. That was an acceptable income diversification. She usually kept a stash for clients who paid well and wanted an enhanced experience. Clients, of course, sometimes enjoyed them free of charge as her hospitable gift. Her girls doing drugs was different. She didn’t give a shit about the lives than could be wrecked. It was a matter of commerce. Drugs ruined faces, they ruined bodies, they ruined things that would need to be replaced. These men were really only kids, after all, and no kid wants to play with a broken toy. Buying new toys cost money. The other women didn’t know this. Grizella didn’t want them to know anything she thought or felt. But Malina knew. As she knew Grizella didn’t like it, but would tolerate it among most of the girls, but not Malina. Never Malina. She had promised.

“How much what, Grizella?”

And with that, the woman’s needle of an index finger jabbed through the flaps of Malina’s robe and into her stomach. Malina was more shocked at the motion itself than the unexpected pain it caused. She flinched and backed away from the stick of a finger.

“Baby. What do you think? How much baby?”

She knew, Malina thought. Of course she knew. She knew everything.
“I’m not sure,” Malina said.

“Not much yet,” Grizella said. “I already have an appointment. The Jew doctor. Day after tomorrow. To fix this.”

Malina nodded.

“I’ve never had a girl get pregnant as easy as you. All the time. I’ve lost count.”

Malina opened her mouth to apologize. Like she always did. But she stopped. She said nothing, and only curled deeper into her robe, cinching the belt at her waist.

“Just like your mother. All the time. Another baby. Your cipki taking one thing in or pushing another thing out every day,” Grizella said.
Malina stared at the tall Polish skeleton in front of her. The nose on that face, long and equine, was the same one Malina tried to hide on her own face. He mother had hated that same nose as well. Malina turned to escape back into her bed and the tin in the bottom of her purse.

“Nie.”

Malina stopped.

“I’ll give you two days after. Two days to stop bleeding. Two days to stop the drugs. After three days, if you are not fixed, all fixed, Abraham will take you away in the van.” Grizella blinked when she said his name. No one else would have seen. Malina did.

Malina didn’t remember the cigarette being held out to her. But her eyes were stinging from the strong smoke, as Grizella held it to Malina’s mouth, the moist tip soft and wet against her lips. Malina knew this woman and she wanted to forget her. She didn’t think or feel, but inhaled, held the smoke in her lungs, and let it seep out her nose. She just wanted to taste the smoke.

“But maybe, almost time for you to leave here anyway. Not so good to be the oldest apple left in the store, Teckla. You rot. Then, you’re only good for the rats in the alley.”

Teckla. She hadn’t heard that name spoken in a long time. Her old name. From her old life. Her dead life. Like the one she was walking through today.

The above is an excerpt from my debut novel Drowning Above Water. It is available now at Amazon in paperback and Kindle, and at independent bookstores throughout Pittsburgh. 

Remember?

 

Remember?

When was the last time you were happy?

Right now?

No?

Sometime today?

Yesterday?

Where?

Was it hot?

Rainy?

What underwear were you wearing?

Do you remember?

 

Do you believe in happy?

Are you sure?

Have you seen it?

How long did it last?

What happened to it?

Did it float away—a vapor,

or change from happy to…

un-happy

dis-happy

ex-happy

post-happy?

 

Where did it go?

You had it?

You had it.

I believe you.

I don’t need to see it.

You saw it.

Didn’t you?

 

Do you remember?

I can’t remember.

Maybe it happened too fast.

I wasn’t looking.

I wasn’t living.

I wasn’t there.

 

Who was?

 

I thought I caught it.

Last night on the couch.

Then later again on the couch.

Then in the kitchen.

Did I?

Did I make it up?

Or did I make it?

I made happy.

I thought.

That’s what they tell you.

But I wasn’t alone on the couch

or in the kitchen.

 

What if don’t want to remember happy on my own?

I’ve gone there by myself.

I’ve gone alone and come back

Without.

I knew enough to know

I was fine,

I was good enough,

I wasn’t happy.

 

Are we allowed to want someone

to help us remember the happy?

 

Just someone to take notes.

In case there’s a test.

 

Is that cheating?

 

If I use that, or want that,

I don’t need that.

But need hat?

 

Do I not get the happy

If I don’t play by the rules?

 

I never saw the book.

But I worked really hard for it.

 

I know wanting isn’t enough.

I put in the hours.

 

Enough happy

for all the hours.

 

Okay, not all…

 

some of the hours…

 

One hour?

 

Five minutes?

 

Just once,

for a heartbeat?

 

Aren’t we made for that?

 

Social creatures

Village

Tribe

Coven

Pack

Family

Partner

 

Because being fine

being alone is fine.

Can smile there.

Can happy there.

 

But maybe

it doesn’t have to be a goal.

 

Just like blissfully tied

isn’t always the best ending,

neither does strong, walled-off

need to be.

I don’t remember.

I don’t know.

If I leave it in

the corner, hiding

until time,

will it be there?

 

Will the happy sneak out the door

while I’m looking somewhere else?

 

I don’t want to miss it.

I want it to wait for me.

 

I want to remember.

My new book Drowning Above Water is available now in paperback and on Kindle though Amazon. 

 

147 E. 9th Street – Chapter 12

New horror fiction.

147 E. 9th Street – Chapter 12

 

Chapter 12

 

The room was already bright when Carolyn opened her eyes. She was accustomed to waking up at dawn, when their bedroom still had slanted shadows. Shawn was always up before her. Sometimes making teas. Other days he mediated or did sun salutations quietly in the corner. On the best days, she woke to see him staring at her.

“I love you in the morning,” he had told her. So many times. “When your mind is quiet and calm and your face is naked.” He was the quiet, calm one. She was the one with the scattered thoughts. Racing. Anxious. Unsettled. Until now. She had turned peaceful. Preparing. He had become the one flustered and segmented and hurting. And he was the one who was gone. She laid in the bed alone. He had never stayed away from her without reason. Travel. Work. Visiting. But never like this. She stared at the empty side of the bed. Her heart hurt. And then the rest of her body hurt.

The pain felt like a sledgehammer to her pelvis. It folded her in half. She desperately tried to find a position that didn’t bring tears and allowed her to breathe. Her eyes were closed and she called out, “Shaw…” before she remembered he wasn’t there. She buried her head in her pillow and twisted onto her hands and knees. After a moment, the pain eased, but only by a degree. She managed to get to the edge of the bed, still aching through her ribs and stomach.

“It will get better,” she heard from the doorway. She opened her eyes, and for some reason, that made the pain worse. She closed them again. Pam stood, waiting for Carolyn’s pain to ease again. After a moment, it did.

“How did you know?” Carolyn asked.

“I just know. I’ve always known.” Pam walked toward the bedroom, carrying a huge bag over her shoulder. She talked as she worked. “I’m going to get the room ready.” She pointed to Carolyn. “You, sit. Save your energy. Going to be a long day.”

 

Carolyn leaned on her nightstand with one hand and the other sunk into the bed. Her legs were spread wide and she shifted her weight from her left foot to her right. The hand on the bed slipped and she lost her balance.

“God damn, son of a bitch,” she screamed. She didn’t fall but slumped onto the bed.

“I got you,” Pam said, gathering Carolyn around the waist and guiding her to sit on the bed.

“God damn…” Carolyn said, her breath breaking.

“Almost there,” Pam soothed. “Almost there. Let me look.” Pam reached her fingers in between Carolyn’s legs. When she drew them away, she held them up for Carolyn to see. They were covered with blood that dripped down to Pam’s knuckle. “Look, Carolyn. Keep breathing. Look at me.” Carolyn did, wincing. “Good girl. She’s coming. It’s time. I’m sorry. I wish we had a bathtub. Fucking New York. Come on. Into the bed.” Carolyn wobbled as she got from sitting and laid down in the bed.

“Why is…blood, why is there blood?” Carolyn said, her voice faint.

“Has to be born in blood,” Pam smiled. “That’s what it takes. That’s what makes it sealed.”

“Wha-“  Carolyn grimaced as her word turned into a scream against her will.

“You are a light,” Pam said. “Our light. And She will be our Beacon. The One to guide. Thank you.”

Carolyn tried to respond. There was nothing to be said. And after her next breath, there was nothing more to see. There was no more light. Only dark. And pain.

My new dark novel Drowning Above Water is available at Amazon. 

147 E. 9th Street – Chapter 11

 

New horror fiction. 147 E. 9th Street – Chapter 11

 

Chapter 11

 

Shawn let himself into the apartment and dropped his backpack at the door. Puddles of water pooled around his boots and leaked in a trail to the bottom of his bag. He didn’t bother to move it. Neither did he bother to take off his boots or sweater when he walked into the kitchen.

He stood at the refrigerator, dripping on the rug, holding the door open. It was full of glass and plastic containers, which held all manner of foods. All of them organic. Most of them green. Normally, he enjoyed having these things around. Tonight, he just wanted a paper full of greasy chips. Instead, he settled for some sort of tan grain with olive-colored specks. He ate it cold, standing, his hair dripping into his dinner. Or was it lunch? He couldn’t remember.

“Here. Let me take your coat,” Carolyn said from the doorway. He didn’t look up. He kept eating.

“I’ll get it,” he said. He took a final huge bite, a few grains slipping out of the glass tub and onto the floor. He stepped to the sink and tossed the bowl in with a clank.

“Could you…” she said.

“What?” he asked. “What can I do now?”

“Nothing,” she said. “How was work?”

“It was long. I’m going to bed.”

“Oh,” she said. “Good night.”

She walked to the sink and turned on the water, full and hot. The steam rose and she felt it, loosening the tightness in her face. The calm stopped when a pain grabbed onto her. She gasped and put her hand to her side. They were getting stronger. She’d had them before. They were sharp and quick, but they faded easily enough. She hadn’t had one for a week, then had one in each of the past three days. She braced herself against the sink with her other had and tried to breathe as deeply as she could. It was coming. Closing her eyes helped to focus her imagery, picturing her rib cage widening to allow for more air in her lungs. She opened her eyes when she heard the water shut off in the sink. She’d forgotten that she had left it on. Shawn was drying his hands on a towel. Carolyn heard him sigh.

“Leave it,” he said. “I’ll wash it tomorrow.”

“I’ll do it,” she said. “I’m fine.” She rubbed her stomach as the pain started to loosen its bite.

“I know.”

He stared at her. “I can’t do this. I can’t look at you every day like this.”

“Like what?” she asked.

“Look at you,” he said, voice raising to an echo in the small space. He gestured with his arms and when they collapsed back to his sides in defeat, water droplets flew off his coat. “You are not having a baby, Carolyn. I don’t care what you say. You’re not. So, I don’t know what this is.” He yanked his coat off, catching it at his elbow. He grunted and struggled and finally threw it to the floor. “And I don’t know what to do. You won’t go see someone and I can’t help you. Something is wrong. It’s very wrong. And I don’t know what to do.”

“You think I’m crazy,” she said.

“I think you’re sick.”

“I’m not sick, Shawn. I’m having a baby.”

“You’re not having a fucking baby!” he screamed. “You are full of cysts and tumors and maybe even cancer.  You’re going to die. And I have to watch.”

Carolyn leaned forward and picked up his wet coat. She grunted quietly as be bent down.  He grabbed the coat out of her hand and kicked it out into the hall. “Leave the fucking coat.” Carolyn stood quietly, her hand protectively folded over and under her round belly. She did look pregnant. She had gained forty pounds, at least. Maybe more. But not everywhere. Only her stomach.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“It’s all right. You just don’t understand. She said you wouldn’t.”

“Who? Who said I wouldn’t?”

“Pam,” Carolyn said.

“And who the bleeding hell is Pam?”

“She’s my friend. She’s helping me.”

“Well, she’s right. I don’t understand. But if she’s helping you, brilliant, because help is what you need. And I can’t.” He stared at her.

“I know.”

“I have to go. I’m sorry.” He stepped toward her and kissed her. It was habit and compunction, not compassion. “I’m sorry.” He hurried out of the kitchen. He scooped his wet coat off the floor of the hallway, slammed the door, and was gone. Carolyn turned back to the sink, and starting washing the dirty bowl.

My new dark, suspense novel Drowning Above Water is available at Amazon. 

147 E. 9th Street – Chapter 9

 

New horror fiction.

147 E. 9th Street – Chapter 9

 

Chapter 9

 

The room was freezing. But Carolyn could feel her sweat, slick against her chest and upper arms, seeping from her armpits. She lay on the exam table, the white sheet digging in where it twisted under the back of her leg. She was wearing a hospital gown, flapped over itself and lifted, exposing her stomach. Her pants were unzipped and separated. Shawn stood behind her, quiet, his hand on her shoulder. The doctor rolled the ultrasound head over her abdomen and stared at the screen.

“Okay, those are the cysts. We knew about those,” the doctor said, pointing to blurry mounds on the monitor behind her. She moved the ultrasound head as she spoke. “One. Two. Three…and there’s the fourth.”

Carolyn and Shawn were silent. They’d heard the words but not seen the evidence live. Her ovaries, her fallopian tubes and her uterus were filled with strangulating cysts.

The doctor made a sound. It wasn’t a gasp. Nothing so big. But she took in a breath that the room could hear. “Wait…there’s something else here…I don’t remember seeing a fifth one before, this must be a new one.” She moved the ultrasound head again and adjusted a dial on the machine.

“What?” Carolyn said, lifting her head as far off the exam table and forward toward to the monitor as she could. “What’s wrong?” Shawn grabbed her hand. There was a brief percussive sound that came from the machine. A few beats and then another. Then, the muffled but regular sound of a heart beat filled Carolyn’s head.

“What is that?” she asked. She reached up and grabbed Shawn’s hand, digging her fingers into the flash of his muscular palms.

“I don’t know,” the doctor said. “I’m sorry. There must be another one. Small. Something we didn’t see before.

“No,” Carolyn said. “The sound…”

Shawn looked at Carolyn, then at the doctor, and then back to Carolyn. “What sound?”

The fast, regular pounding filled her ears again.

“It’s a heartbeat,” Carolyn said.

The doctor looked concerned. “Are you feeling okay” Faint? Dizzy? Nauseous?”

“No,” Carolyn said. “I’m fine. But I know what…is that a baby?”

“I’m sorry,” the doctor said. “It’s not a heartbeat. You might be hearing, it could be, sometimes when there is more mass, unusually calcified or misplaced, in the tissue space than is usual, the vibrations of the sound waves in the biologic fluid can- “

“I know what it is,” Carolyn said.

“It could just be you feeling unwell. Some dehydration, the beginnings of a migraine, vertigo, could all mimic a similar sound in your head,” the doctor said. “I’m not hearing anything. Carolyn, I need to be sure you understand. With four cysts of that size, all calcified, some precancerous, there is no way that this uterus could sustain life.”

“My uterus is sustaining,” Carolyn said.

“Darling, I’m sure…” offered Shawn.

The doctor turned off the ultrasound machine. “My first concern is for your health. Why don’t you get dressed and we can talk in my office?” The doctor smiled politely, and just a bit sadly.

“We can talk here,” Carolyn said, straightening herself up on the exam table. She smiled too. A real one. Ernest and eager.

“Lynnie,” Shawn said.

“Please. Go ahead,” Carolyn said to the doctor.

“I have to recommend a complete hysterectomy. Not emergent. But I’d like it as soon as possible.”

Carolyn smile flattened, but just a by a degree. “No.”

“Ms. Janus-“

“Doctor McMillen,” Carolyn said, “I am not going to have a surgery. I am having a baby. So, that is what I’m going to do.”

“That is not medically possible,” the doctor said.

“That,” Carolyn said,” is not up to you.”

“I’m sorry, but I have to…Carolyn, you have to listen. Tell her, what happens if she doesn’t have the surgery,” Shawn said.

“This is ridiculous,” Carolyn said. “Why would I even consider this? I’m, we’re having a baby.”

“I don’t care about that,” he said. “I don’t care if we never have any. I want our life like it is and that means you.”

“But I don’t-”

“Tell her what can happen,” he said, voice raising and patience lowering.

“Infection. Sepsis. Rupture. Death,” the doctor said, plain and firm.

“Is that all?” Carolyn asked.

“Listen,” Shawn scolded.

Carolyn slid forward and stood. Shawn stood beside her. The doctor rose to meet them. “Thank you so much,” Carolyn said. “We’re done here.” Her thin hospital bed gaped open, her breasts and torso exposed. She grabbed her t-shirt from a folding chair in the corner and left. Shawn dipped his head slightly at the doctor, then followed her.

 

 

An hour later, Carolyn walked to the corner of their kitchen. She threw the rumpled hospital gown she still had balled in her hand into the garbage can. Shawn waited until she turned around so he could look at her face. “We don’t have to do anything right now. I want you to relax. I’ll draw you a bath- “

Carolyn smiled. “Silly boy. East village apartments don’t have bathtubs.” He started saying this to her shortly after their first date. He offered to draw her a bath. His small apartment had none. He smiled and left the room. When he returned, he handed her a pencil sketch of a bathtub. He was good with his hands in so many ways.

“I’ll make you one: pop out, get a blow-up kiddie pool at Duane Reade, boil water in the kettle while I blow it up. Bubbles, lavender oil, salts, right as rain and then fast asleep,” he said. “Deal with this another day.” He stroked her forearm as he talked.

“You are wonderful,” she said, leaning up to kiss him. “I’m so happy.” He kissed her back and tried to wrap her in his arms. “And I’m starving. I will love you forever if you call out for a curry while I take a shower.” She pulled away from his arms and went into the bathroom. She closed the door behind her and he heard her click the lock. “Seven and a half,” she called to him behind the door. “I want it spicy.”

She stayed in the bathroom for a long, long time. The water in the shower had shifted from scalding hot, to warm to tepid, to slightly chilly by the time she was done. When she finally got out, she’d let go of the day and made her plans.  and wrapped herself in a long, warm robe. She could smell the curry.

He was sitting with a pile of vegetables. There was a bottle of uncorked wine on the table.  She took a bite of her curry.

“It’s perfect,” she said, her mouth full and her nose sniffling.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I told them medium. Do you want mine?”

“No,” she said. “It’s great.”

“I love you,” he said.

“Love you, too.”

“Here. Have some wine,” he said, grabbing the wine and pouring. She looked at him as if he was the most foolish boy. She walked to the sink and poured herself a glass of water. She took several long gulps still standing and then returned to the table.

“What are you doing tomorrow?” she asked. He pulled his phone out of his pocket. They tried to keep their phones away during their dinners.

“Clients until three,” he said.

“Perfect. Keep the evening free.”

“Of course,” he said. “What are you thinking love?

“I think I found a midwife. At the center off 38th. I e-mailed while I was in the bathroom. She’s lovely. We can look at the office tomorrow when you’re done.”

“Lynnie…”

“She has a list of doulas that she recommends. I want to start interviewing as soon as we can. I want as much support as I can get. I know you’ll be wonderful but there needs to be another support. You can’t be my only pillar.”

He slammed the wine bottle back down on the table. Drops flicked onto his hand. “You’ve got to stop. I went along when we were at the doctor’s office but- “

“Look at me. Look at this belly. This isn’t me. It’s her.”

“No, Carolyn. It’s you moping around this apartment and eating and not moving. And I don’t care. I love you no matter your shape or size. I love you and your belly. You are still my most beautiful girl in the world. But there is no baby. And you have go to stop this. Or you will get sick, and then you will get sicker and then you will be my beautiful dead girl.”

“You don’t have to be a part of this,” she said. “We will be just fine on our own.”

Shawn stood, leaving the food and wine where it sat. He walked away from the table and she could hear the bedroom door slam from the other room. She took another drink of water to cool her mouth, and then she stabbed a forkful of his vegetables and ate them in one giant bite. Then she took another. It really was perfect.

 

My new suspense novel Drowning Above Water is available at Amazon.