Seeing Monsters

I know that it’s coming,

prying open the door,

creeping up the back stairs

creaking, I feel it more

with each step

It’s not a surprise.

I knew it was coming

as soon as my eyes

opened this morning and

here it is, friendly stance.

Punctual. Cordial.

Ready to dance.

But it’s ugly. It’s awkward.

It claws my insides.

Blood on my skin.

Tears in my eyes.

It can’t take the blame though,

I called this thing here.

My beautiful monster, my ravenous twin

built from my failure, my failings and sin.

My raving and cursing

not grateful for much

spewing jealous and anger

over authenticity such

a typical mess

like I always create.

Disavowing a trust

and dooming my fate.

Because I can’t just believe

and I can’t just relax.

That’s not what I do.

I just know attacks.

I want both arms straight out

pushing hard, fast away,

Don’t let them hurt you.

Don’t let them stay.

Cause, they will

you remember,

that one did before.

And now, my creation

looms fresh at my door,

needing its feeding,

my fear and my doubt.

So I’ll offer them up

but then turn about,

and sad, wonder why

I’m alone with the beast

snorting, and panting

while I watch the feast.

Yet, I won’t try to fight,

won’t raise arms or defend.

Wanting to wait till the dark, bitter end.

Someday, I won’t need this.

I’ll scratch and I’ll fight,

against the gnarled feelings

that haunt in the night.

They’re not what can hurt me,

they’re not even real.

It’s only what I make,

what I want to see.

And I want to see possible.

Not just the disguise.

Not just flights of fancy

or fears behind eyes.

So maybe tomorrow

but tonight, I atone,

and dance through the night,

seeing monsters,

alone.

 

147 East 9th Street

9th street

9th street

(Bits of my current Dark Yarn. More unraveling to come.)

Chapter 4

     Carolyn stood in the doorway, her legs frozen. Her phone sat, quiet and still on her bed. Not in the center, but on her side, where her lower back would be if she was lying there. Just where Shawn had said it was. But there was no way. She had been in the bar. The phone had been in her hand. She had heard the phone ring and the child’s voice that came through when she answered it.
“You find it?” she heard the voice behind her ask. Her breath stopped. She clapped her hand over her mouth, trying to stop whatever air was left in her lungs from escaping. Without willing it, she bent over at her waist and collapsed her knees, curling both into herself and into the ground. She felt arms around her, keeping her from sinking completely into the carpet. The arms lifted her up and walked her to the bed. She let them sit her on the edge. Her edge. She saw the phone and her body reared back. She kicked, her heels digging into the comforter, until the phone fell off and landed on the floor.
“Lynnie,” he whispered, trying to calm her. “You’re ok. You’re ok now. Come here. Come here with me,” he soothed. He eased her to her side, wrapping himself around her like a thick, weighty blanket. She always folded right into him when he held her. But tonight she couldn’t. He felt her body, tight and rigid and leaning away from him.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I know you’ve been in your head. About me. About what’s going on.”
“I don’t know what’s going on,” she said.
“Nothing. Nothing is going on,” he said, drawing long ovals on the back of her arm. She tensed, her tricep muscles bracing. He kept circling, light then more pressure. Her skin broke out in goosebumps. He continued. Her muscles relaxed under him.
“That’s my girl “ he said. “Come back to me.”
“Are you going crazy?” she said. Not wanting the answer or ready to believe the one she might get.
“No, love,” he said.
“Am I going crazy?”
“Never.  Sanest girl I know. You’re the strong one here. You know that,” he said. “I’d be lost and drowned without you. Truly.”
” I heard that voice on the phone,” she said.
“If you say you did, you did. Of course you did.”
“But I don’t know how,” she said. “I need to know how.”
“Have you thought,” he started, then trailed off, quiet, touching his lips to the back of her neck.
“Thought what?”
“Nothing, love, just a silly thought. You know how I get. You all warm and soft in bed with me.”
She peeled away from him, just an inch, enough to turn in place so she could see his face. “What have I thought?”
“Nothing at all-“
“Shawn,” she said. Done being warm and soft.
He sighed. “Please don’t be angry about this. It’s probably just me. My stupid head. But, you said it was a kid. A little kid. Maybe-”
She rolled away from him, giving him her back again.
“See? I’m sorry. I’m an idiot. I can’t help it. I just know, when I’ve had my…troubles in the past, there’s something at the core. Something shaking and unbalancing me. I can’t help but think.” He held her closer. “Maybe it’s just me. Maybe you’ve been unsettled with me being sick. Looking for a way out. But please don’t. You can’t.  I’m coming back. Back to you. I promise.”
“I don’t  think I even want a baby,” she said.
“And I love you for that,” he said. He kissed her cheek. “Now lie still you. You’re a mess of knots. If I start now, I might have you sorted out by breakfast. He knelt above her, wringing his hands together firmly. She nestled deeper into the pillow. She wasn’t all there, not heart and mind, but she was wiling to offer him what parts of her were. He placed his hands on either side of her neck. They were muscled and expansive, wide palms and long fingers. He held them there for a moment. Slowly sinking in with more pressure. She sighed under his touch and he started to move. His hands and fingers worked, rubbing, circling, kneading, the anxious fibers of her back. She felt his fingers almost touch each other in the front of her throat. They lingered there for a moment, no pressure, just presence. As he delved deeper into her form, she closed her eyes and let herself step away from them both. Away from the things she trusted completely and the things she couldn’t quite know.
Under the bed, the phone laid in the strands of dust, forgotten after her displacing kick. It was still and silent. But the indigo light from its keys glowed steady and unstopping.

147 East 9th Street – Chapter 3

 

147 East 9th Street – Chapter 3

The apartment door slammed shut, but she didn’t hear the deadbolt. He always turned the deadbolt. Even if he was just going for a job or picking up their Thursday night avocados. Or limes. He never, ever remembered to get limes. Something that bugged her to no end in the first months with him, but that she had come to find endearing. “Love?” she called. Their place was not exactly the biggest. Their place. She still stumbled over that one. Their bed, in their place, was at the top of an unforgiving ladder that could only be called “stairs” in the most generous of circumstances. But for two rooms in New York, you made compromises. Some of these included being bounced on your ass when going to the bathroom.
It was quiet. Maybe it wasn’t their door slamming. Probably the Indian couple next door. Those boys could bang some doors. She leaned over the bed, remembering this time that she couldn’t stand fully erect to put on the clean pillowcases, or she would bruise her forehead on the slanted back wall. Then she heard the door close again. Definitely their door. And then their lock clicking. She put down the still-naked pillow and walked downstairs. As she cleared the last two steps, facing towards the wall and clinging onto the railings on both sides for support, she heard the door unlock and swing open.
“Shawn?” she called. But she knew he wasn’t there. No way. She walked toward the door. When she got within two steps, she felt the air exchange inches from her face. She realized she was sweating. Phone. Needed her phone. It wasn’t in her back pocket. Bed. Pillows. Upstairs. She slipped and cracked her shin against one of the steps. Blood dripped on the dark, faded wood. Get upstairs. Get the phone. She finally got to the top. It wasn’t by the pillows or anywhere on the bed. Then she heard it vibrating from downstairs. Back down, slipping on the last step. Finally upright, she ran across the room and grabbed the first and biggest thing she could hold. Smashing her guitar over the head of whoever was opening and closing her door, but she felt better having it in her hand. Where was her phone? She heard it vibrating. Maybe on the counter but the door, she ran to it and grabbed it. She looked up when the door slammed shut again. Full-view, eyes open. She saw the door. It was closed but then it independently swung open, paused as if someone stopped it with their foot and then kicked it shut. Her phone stopped vibrating in her hand. Everything was quiet. Then her phone rang.
It was a song she knew, but couldn’t name in this moment. Old and tinny. Something from a black and white movie with fainting girls and men in fedoras and waistcoats. Then it faded, the notes dimming. They were replaced with the sound of a child, young, when boys and girls have the same voices. The same accent as Shawn.
“Hello. Are you there? Someone? Can any body hear me? I don’t know where I am. I’m…I need my mummy. Is she there? Mummy?”
Carolyn stared at her phone. The screen was black. Nothing. She pressed the power button, the home button, nothing. The phone stayed dead.
“Mummy, I’m so tired. I want to go to sleep in your big bed. Rub my hair so I can go to sleep. Tell the scary goblins not today. Mummy…sleepy…” The child’s voice stopped.
“Carolyn,” she head, and she finally looked up from her phone. It was the same accent, only a grown man’s voice. She jumped and screamed when she felt the hand on her shoulder.
“Love, what are you doing? What’s the trouble?”
She grabbed him, wrapping her arms around him and squeezing. “Someone’s here. In the house.”
“Who’s here? One of your work mates. Is it Dae?”
“I don’t know. I can’t see them. They are here. And there’s a little girl on my phone.”
He took the phone from her hand and examined it. He pressed the home button and the screen lit up, apps and wallpaper photo of a rosemary scone she had baked in place as usual.
“There’s no girl on your phone,” Shawn said. “And I don’t think anyone is in the flat.”
Carolyn grabbed the phone from him and put it down on the table. She rubbed her hand on her leg after she dropped it.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Why don’t you go lie down? I’ll bring you in some tea.”
“Fuck your tea. I’m not staying here,” she said.
“Lynnie…”
“No,” she said. She walked past him to the next room. He heard her scoop her keys ups from the table. Then he heard them drop onto the floor. She swore and picked them up. Pushing past him in the doorway, she walked to the table with her phone. She looked at it, but refused to touch it. She didn’t feel Shawn pulling at her hand as she rushed out the door.

—————————————————————————————
“Johnnie Walker Black. Rocks,” Carolyn said to the bartender. She sat at the bar and waited. She didn’t know where to look. It had been years since she had been anywhere alone without her phone. She saw a black phone on a lower shelf by the bartender with the long braids. Who would she call? She didn’t know anyone’s number. And she was too stunned to do anything but look straight ahead, seeing her pale reflection in the mirror behind the bar. A ghost.
The word sounded ridiculous. Ghost? Is that why her doors slammed and a make-believe girl hijacked her phone? She stared past the bottles to the mirror behind the bar. Her face. Her short hair. No crazy horror movie blood streaks. No absent reflection. No forced reflection of a goblin or bewitched little girl scout with poisoned Samoas. Just her and her drink. And the woman who was now sitting next to her.
“Johnnie Walker. Neat. You got blue label?” the woman asks. The bartender raises his eyebrow.
“I know,” she says. The bartender shrugs and walks to the back of the bar, reaching on tiptoes for the blue-labeled bottle on the highest shelf. “Every time,” she says.”You think’d they’d start keeping it lower.”
“Maybe they don’t want it to get broken,” Carolyn said.
“Then they should tread more carefully,” the woman said. “It’s really fucking good scotch.”
“Yeah it is,” Carolyn said.
The bartender placed the really fucking good scotch in front of the woman. Not gently. The liquid tilted and swayed in the glass.
“ I saw him in Medea in some shithole theater in DUMBO. He was a lousy Jason. No wonder she killed her kids.”
Carolyn was quiet. Pam slugged most of her drink. Her lipstick stuck to the rim of the glass. Her nails were painted black. So was her hair.
“Not an actor?” the woman asked.
“No,” Carolyn said.
“Pam,” the woman said. “Nun’s name.”
“Are you a nun?” Carolyn asked.
“Yes,” Pam said. Carolyn stared at her.
“No,” Carolyn said.
“No,” Pam said. “Are you?”
“Not yet,” Carolyn said. She rubbed her shin it was still sore from the crack it took earlier.
“You from the neighborhood?” Pam asked. Carolyn nodded. Creeped out or not, she was still a minimal-information New Yorker. “Me too. Haven’t seen you here.”
“Look. Before you…I’m not interested.”
“I’m not asking,” Pam said.
“Okay,” Carolyn said.
“Okay,” Pam said. She nodded to Carolyn’s drink. “ Phone’s ringing.”
“I forgot my-“ Carolyn stopped. Her phone was on the bar, next to her drink. She knew she hadn’t brought it with her. She knew it. But there it was. And it was ringing.

147 East 9th – Chapter 2

IMG_3381

Because anxiety is real. And a problem. Not just for the person in whose head this filthy, ugly beast lives. But for the people closest to them.

Because I just came back from visiting my favorite 9th street. A wonderful handful of days. And then anxiety fully and properly killed my vibe. And my confidence. And most of a relationship.

Anxiety got her Sunday night flesh. Got her cowering and insecurity. Got her turning away and shutting down. Got her total belief in lies and “I can’t”.  But that wasn’t enough for that awful wench. Anxiety went and got this morning as well. And that selfish, needy bitch got her tears and her collapse and everything else she wanted to take from me. But tonight, she gets no more.

Tonight is mine. My words, my trying, my taking a breath and putting something out into the world that terrifies me. Anxiety will not take that tonight.

147 East 9th Street – Chapter 2

Chapter 2

The computer blinked at her. White background with dark text. Then blue. Then black screen of death. Then white screen of what could not be called afterlife, because there was nothing but white light coming from the screen.
“Fuck me,” she whispered.
“You know, baby. I got you,” came the voice from the other side of the felted cubicle partition. Carolyn wheeled herself back away from her desk. Dae wheeled herself back as well. They touched knees in a passageway behind their desks. A hallway so small, claustrophobic and convoluted that it tapered at the coffee room at the very end. At least that’s what Dae and Carolyn had decided. And then one day a few months ago, they measured it. Full four inches shorter at the far wall.
“What’d you do?” Dae asked. Carolyn shrugged. “Did you lick it? Were you looking at pictures of Gary Oldman and got wound up and loved up on the screen and got sick, white girl germs all over it?”
“White girls don’t lick our computers. At least I don’t think we do. Are we supposed to?”
“Like I know what white girls do,” Dae said.
“Gary Oldman?” Carolyn asked.
“Boy was all kinds of hot in True Romance,” Dae said. “Move your ass and let me see.” Dae stood and kicked her chair back into her station and walked around into Carolyn’s tiny boxed space. A picture of Shawn sat on her desk, next to her computer, where the screen was now flashing between darkness and bright white light. Dae picked it up, still punching out letters on the keyboard with one hand.
“How many beautiful black Idris Elba-Queen’s English speaking-push-up doing boys are in this city?”
“Thousand. Probably more,” Carolyn said.
“Don’t care. You got one of them to wake up next to you. Lucky bitch.”
“I usually leave before him. He stays up late.”
“Tragic.”
“Dae. You don’t like boys,” Carolyn said.
“That, my privileged girl, is not the point,” Dae said. She hands Carolyn the picture. “I said move your ass. Damn.” Dae sat in Carolyn’s seat and stared at her spasming computer screen. She pounded the keys with conviction. Then stopped.
“Fuck me,” Dae said.
“See?”
“You have something truly rotten wormed up in this thing,” Dae said.
“I shouldn’t. I haven’t pulled anything of or put anything on.”
“Something got through.”
“Shit. I bet I lost my whole piece,” Carolyn said.
“Your girl will find it. Don’t worry. Go get me a latte. Almond. No. Soy. No. First. Almond milk. I’ll have it figured by the time you get back.”
“Thank you. Again. Like always.”
Carolyn stood at the counter, spilling a second cream into her coffee. Her phone beeped. She splashed cream on her hand as she tried to squash the lid onto her coffee. She sucked off the white drops as she pulled her phone from her pocket. It was a text from Dae.
‘Your shit is fucked, kid. I got pulled in on something else. I’ll get back on it tomorrow.’
She texted back.
‘Fail, lady.’
Dae responded.
‘Might as well head home. You can’t do anything else here today. Take my beautiful coffee and enjoy.’
Carolyn put her phone back in her pocket and using her hip, left carrying both hot, very, very, intensely hot coffees. She walked.
An hour later, she was sitting in Madison Square Park. Her beautiful Idris Elba-Queen’s English speaking boy appeared and kissed her cheek. He was carrying a cup of ice and a thermos.
“I knew it wouldn’t be hot anymore, so I brought this to make it sort of drinkable,” he said, handing her the ice. “And I brought this,” he held out the thermos,” If you wanted to try it again with a proper drink.”
“Thank you, love,” she said, taking a drink from the thermos.Her face tightened and her eyes blinked. “ That’s not tea,” she said.
“Course not, lovely girl. It’s almost five on a Friday. It’s a gin and tonic with a copious, just this side of an almost offensive amount of lime,” he said.
“Never will I understand your taste,” she said, handing him back his toxic thermos. “You’re done early.”
“I am. My last appointment cancelled. And, I am free all weekend.” He took a long drink from the thermos, then leaned in and kissed her. It turned into a deep one. One that drew her back on the ground, with him, his weight and his intensity heavy on her chest. She loved that feeling. Not that she couldn’t breathe, she could, but she had to think about it. Had to push her lungs into action, using his chest and stomach as a counterpoint. For as shallow as her breath was, she pushed into his kiss deeper, running her hands into his hair. Feelings the spines and knots of the twists in his hair. She reluctantly broke the kiss.
“Everyone’s watching,” she said.
“I like it, “ he said.
“Let’s go home.”
“Let’s go home, “ he said. He held out his hand, and helped her to her feet. He kissed her again when she got there. Her breath caught again.
Twenty minutes later, she pushed him against the wall and closed the door with her heel. Shawn was still holding the thermos of gin. He leaned over to drop it on the table, but not too far that he loosened contact from her mouth. The thermos held on the lip of the table for a second and then toppled to the floor. Neither noticed. She took his hand and led him to the bedroom.
An hour later, they laid, wrapped, with arms and legs looped around each other. Always the same. Both on their left side, her right leg between his, his right hand loosely holding her left breast. Their home position. His hand trailed from her breast to her stomach, slowly rubbing his palm across her slack flesh.
“Don’t start something you can’t finish, Mister,” she said.
“Wouldn’t dare,” he said. “But I was thinking of something else.”
“Were you now?”
“I was thinking of us. Having a baby,” he said.
She rolled of of home position to face him. “A baby?”
“Cute little, chubby one. Cinnamon skin. Lots of drool.”
“Do you want a baby?”
“It’s why I brought it up, isn’t it? Do you want a baby?”
She thought. Really stopped and thought. “I do. I never thought about it as an actual, real, maybe-happening thing before.”
“You should,” she said, rubbing his hand across her stomach again, kneading and rubbing her skin. Then, he grabbed her stomach, hard. His fingers curled toward each other, until soft flesh spilled between the angles. The cells flattened and squeezed until top and bottom were approximating. She tried to pull away, but his grip had locked. “Stop. That’s too hard,” she said. He didn’t respond. His grip didn’t lessen.”Seriously, Shawn. Stop.” She flattened her palms against his chest and pressed as hard as she could. Trying to push him away, to push herself away, to make this pain that was bringing tears to her eyes to stop. He said nothing.Then she looked at him.
His body was as rigid and columnar as it had been that day at his apartment. But that had been months ago. Almost a year. Before they knew they were a real thing. Before they moved from two homes into one. Before there were drops of blood dripping to her hip, where his uneven nails had dug into her pelvis. It hadn’t happened since.
She moved both her hands to his wrist, and tried to pry his hand from her body. He was immovable. He voice started making sounds against her will. Her skin had flattened to the width of paper and it felt like only seconds until he completely pierced through, from outside to in and back again. She brought up her knees and wrapped them around his arm. Throwing all her weight forward, she pulled herself up and over and knelt on him. Countering against that pressure, she leaned back as far as she could, yelling as she finally broke free of his grip.
His body laid on the bed, still and stony. She didn’t know she had scuttled away from him, until she felt the closet door bang against her back. What was she supposed to do? She pulled up her shirt and examined her ribs and stomach. There were scratches and streaks of blood. It wasn’t deep. It only felt like she’d been slashed with a chef’s knife. She looked up from her own skin. Shawn was still lying flat on the bed. She stood up, but stayed flush against the closet door. His limbs were motionless but his chest was rising and falling. Craning her neck without breaking the seal against the door, she focused on his neck. There was the smallest hint of an undulating peak and valley just above the crease of his collarbone. His heart was fine. So, she sat down, still firm against the door. And did nothing.
Another hour later, the twitch of her chin against her collarbone woke her. She blinked and then registered the irritant. Not a bug or a stray fiber of clothing. It was his hand against her shoulder. She felt the smooth stroke of his fingers, and the momentary catching of the callous at the base of his middle finger. He was back.
“Are you okay?,” she asked.
“Right as rain,” he said, stroking her hair, wrapping his hand around the back of her neck. “Hope it wasn’t too frightful, love.”
She smiled. “Say frightful again,” she said, murmuring it into his chest. He leaned into her neck, his mouth moist and soft against her skin. Goosebumps raised themselves and her shoulders shivered as he ran his finger down her vertebra and whispered.
“Frightful.”
“It wasn’t so bad,” she said.
“Sorry,” he said.
“I thought maybe those were done,” she said.
“Would be nice,” he said. “I’m famished. You want to get a curry?”
“When have we ever gotten a curry?” she asked.
“Always a first time. Come on. Pants, young lady.” He held out his hand and pulled her to her feet. When he kissed her, before he swatted her down the hallway, she saw the bright, red bloodshot tracks in his eyes.

———————————————————————————————————

 

 

 

147 East 9th – Chapter 1

IMG_3381

 

Because there’s something to be said for brave. And jumping. And working. And failing but learning. And making it through to come back another day.

Here is the first look at my current favorite Dark Yarn Production, my short story. ‘147 East 9th’

First installment – first draft.

Little horror. Little thriller. Little funny.

Little smirk from me.

 

Chapter 1

She was moving in slow motion, steps and half-frames and she watched, in fractions of centimeters, the door frame scrape the skin from the knuckle of her middle finger. She saw, but didn’t feel, the blood surface above the skin. First in tiny, segmented pixel dots until they multiplied and then assembled into a line of red that crept to her wrist. Every time she turned her cheap key copy in the lock of her boyfriend’s apartment, she banged her knuckles. Every time. But she had never been in this much of a hurry. But moving so slowly. The key fell from the lock and crashed on the welcome mat. A drop of blood fell on silver and gold when she scooped them up and jammed the key back into the lock. Through the window she could still see him. Shawn. Slumped in his chair. Wrong. Crooked and stiff. Like he was immovable. Not drunk. Not sleeping. Like he was trapped in his own locked body. Finally the door gave way and she pushed her way inside to him.
Her mind went blank. They had only been dating a few months, but seemed a lifetime. It had come on hard and fast between them. She thought she had played it cool, making him wait until the third date to sleep with him. Only to come flying into his bed seven hours and twenty minutes later. By the end of the second month, she’d met his mother and had a key to his place. But right know, she realized knew nothing about this man.
“Shawn. Shawn!” she yelled. He didn’t flinch. She dropped to her knees in front of him. His neck was extended back, his eyes not just looking to the ceiling but past it. His arms were fully extended, fingers gripped on the chair. She shook him. HIs body moved in one steel piece, not in any fleshy segments. His phone was on the floor by her knees. The screen was black. Dead. She ran to her bag, searching. She gave up and turned it upside down, crawling into the pile of purse debris.
“SHIT!” she screamed, skidding change and mints and a tampon across the floor as she flailed her arm. Somehow her wrist crashed down to her hip and she felt her own phone, jutting out of her back pocket. It took her four tries with as many deletes, but she finally dialed 911, and someone on the other end of the phone started talking.
She didn’t remember saying anything in response to the words she heard. The phone was somewhere near her and she tried to listen. To the strange voice. To hear for a heartbeat. She stopped listening and tried feeling. Breathing. Shuddering. Anything. More words. Where was she? His apartment. Where was his apartment? She left him to run back to the front door. She couldn’t remember his apartment number. No, she didn’t know if he was epileptic. No, she didn’t know if he was diabetic. Or allergic to cilantro. No. she didn’t think he took drugs. Did she know? No. She just knew it looked like he was dying in front of her.
A voice called out. She leaned in to Shawn. He was immobile. His mouth was rigid, lips separated, back teeth clenched. The voice wasn’t his.
“Ma’am? You have to stay on the phone with me, okay? ” It was her phone. In her hand.
“Yes, yes, It’s Shawn.”
“Okay, ma’am. What is wrong with him?”
“I don’t know. He’s breathing. I think. But he’s just lying there. He’s not moving.”
“Okay. We’ll get him help. But first, what’s your name ma’am?”
“What?”
“Who am I talking to? What’s your name, ma’am?”
She stared at Shawn, he hadn’t moved. Maybe he wasn’t breathing. “I don’t think he’s breathing. I looked closer and I don’t think he’s breathing. Oh my God.”
“Where are you?”
She jhad ust looked and she still couldn’t remember. She had walked, taken a cab and usually the R train more times than she remembered in the last weeks of her life. And she couldn’t remember his address. Where was she? She was just at the door. She scanned the room. There was mail on counter, spilling onto the stove. Half of it spilled to the floor when she reached. She hit her knees and pulled out a bill. Shawn Crown. 147 E. 9th Street.
“Shawn Crown. 147 East ninth street,” she almost screamed into the phone.
The voice interrupted her own cracking voice. “Okay, ma’am, I need you to check and see if he’s breathing. Can you get close to him? Is it safe?”
She stared at him. Safe. “Yes, he’s breathing.”
“Is he conscious? Can he hear you?”
“I don’t know,” she said.
The voice wouldn’t stop. “Is he taking any medication? Does he have a cardiac history? Does he have seizures? Illegal drugs? Has he been drinking?”
“Didn’t we just do this?” Maybe they hadn’t. Maybe she just thought they had. “I don’t know,” she said, her voice had finished cracking and started breaking.
“That’s fine. Just stay there with him. I’ll be on the phone until the ambulance arrives.”
Then the chair twitched and creaked. She put down the phone. Or dropped it. She grabbed onto the leather, needing to get closer to him but afraid to touch him.
Bent in the cushions, Shawn’s joints flexed and with a few subtle motions, he turned human again. His shoulder lowered and his head maintained its own support. His eyes had never been closed, but they had never seen. He blinked and looked at her .
“Ayn zawjati? Mayar. Ayn zawjati?” He saw her. The girlfriend with the light brown hair standing in front of her. He may as well been looking through a microscope at a petri dish of scabies. He studied, curious and searching, but found nothing of what he thought he wound find.
“Shawn,” she asked. Because now, she really didn’t know. She heard knocking and the open door catch on the hall runner as the door was pushed to the limits of its hinges. She watched a man and a woman in baby blue shirts and navy cargo pants kneel beside Shawn. She stepped back, out of the room. Their black boots had left sprinkles of dirt on the floor. She’d have to sweep that later. Shawn hated when people wore shoes in the house.
The ambulance crew loaded him onto the tiny collapsing wheelchair, belting him in like a toddler in a booster seat. He didn’t say anything else, but kept his eyes open, staring around the room as if he had never been there before. The two in blue who were fully upright, rattled words and observations back and forth, talking to each other as if no one else was in the room. They were jolting him out the door before one of them mentioned over their shoulder, that she could follow them if she wanted.
And then it was silent. Her purse lay on the floor empty, with its inside bits strewn for yards. A plastic mint container had been crushed under a boot or a wheel and white powder dotted the floor like rained-out sidewalk chalk. Something on the chair where Shawn had been trapped when she found him was wet. Her first and only thought was that she had to clean it.
She went into the kitchen and looked under the sink. Nothing expect an empty mouse trap. The peanut butter on the foot plate was hardened into a plastic knob. On the sink there was a bottle of dish liquid. She grabbed that and a handful of napkins from the top of the refrigerator. She turned on the faucet and ran everything in her hands under the water. Fully dripping, she then ran back into the living room.
Turning over the dish liquid, she covered the wet spot on the chair then dropped to her knee. Circling with the napkins, she managed to turn it from a wet spot to a white, nubby, frothy spot, speckled with bits of paper. She turned over the napkins, to see if any color had come away with her rubbing. There was nothing. Just soap and wet. Without thinking, she smelled it. Soap and wet and something else. But she had no idea what. She dropped the napkins and stood.He was on his way to the hospital. She had no idea which one.
Had to get outside. Get to the street. Find markers. Living in the city. Look up. Look around. Figure out where she was and then maybe where he was. She had no idea. Might as well have been a decade ago, when she moved here from Florida. Phone. Where was her phone? She looked down and her hands were empty. She ran back inside and saw it, sitting on the wet cleaning attempt. She swiped it across her jeans. She looked up again. Nothing. She typed, reduced to googling nearest hospitals like a common Pennsylvania bus tourist.
St. Mary’s. Closest. Probably where they took him. She could get there. Taxi. She could get a taxi. She remembered how to do that. She thought. And then she did. And made it all the way out of the lower east side and toward, whatever neighborhood was next. St. Mary’s. But he wasn’t there.
Walking up and down the sidewalk in front of that hospital, she realized she could have called. Either the hospital, or even the ambulance crew. But she has no idea what ambulance service it was. And she didn’t think it was protocol to call 911 back and ask. So, where the hell was he? Then she felt the pressure of a pair of hands and the warm, wet rolling down her back.
“Sorry. I’m sorry,” the boy’s voice said. She turned and saw two college-aged kids standing behind her. The girl of the pair had no shoes, bloody hands and was leaning forward at the waist, puking onto the sidewalk. Her mind slowly informed her what had just happened to the back of her shirt. She started gagging.
“Yeah, she’s…sorry,” the boy of the pair said. He straightened his partner, to a more or less upright position, and walked her inside.
All her brain was good for at the moment was to tell her that she needed to get home, shower and try this whole thing again.She did not do medical and fluids and, no. Home. Taxi. She could do that. Then find him.
It took longer than her brain had initially told her. Her keys were not in her purse. They must still have been sprawled somewhere on Shawn’s floor. She waited for fifteen minutes to get the super out his door and up the two flights of stairs.
She flung off her shirt and threw it in the kitchen sink, on top of the cereal bowl. She yelped when the spoon spun out and hit the stainless steel. Then it was quiet. Pristine quiet. Why was she standing in the sink in just her bra? Yes. Shawn. Hospital. Vomit. Blood. Shower.
Tepid shower. Hot shower was not in the cards. She let the water run, and run, hoping that the water temperature would somehow circle around from lukewarm to cold and back to hot. It didn’t. And then she couldn’t find her clothes. And then there was a knock at the door. She turned to water off, listening to the quiet. This time, she heard a key turning in the deadbolt. Then she heard the door opening. Then she ran. Right into him. And screamed.
“Carolyn!” Shawn held her at arm’s length.
“Oh my God,” she sank down to her knees and he held her up, his hands slipping against her wet, naked skin.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” he said, settling next to her.
“What are you doing here? I was trying to get to the hospital. I didn’t know where you were. I didn’t know where they took you. And I went to the wrong place. And I didn’t know if you had epilepsy or did drugs-“
“I’m so sorry,” he said. “You should never have seen that.”
“I thought you were dead.”
“I’m sure. Shit. I’m sorry.”
“Why aren’t you in the hospital? I mean, what the hell?”
He knelt on the floor in front of her. “I didn’t stay. Honey, I am, I can’t tell you how sorry I am that you had to walk in on that.”
“Shut the hell up with I’m sorry,” she said. “Just tell me what happened?”
Shawn blew all the air out of his lungs and ran his hand through his hair. “All right. First, I don’t have epilepsy and I don’t do drugs. What you saw was, okay, I wish I had a better answer for you. But I don’t know.”
“So why the hell wouldn’t you stay in the hospital?”
“Because there’s nothing wrong.”
“How can you say there’s…” She looked down in her lap.
“Are you okay?”
“I don’t have any clothes on.”
“I know,” he said.
“Don’t step out of my sight,” she said. She stood and motioned him in front of her, toward the bedroom. Inside the room, she pointed to the bed and he sat as instructed. She reached into a laundry basket and pulled on an oversized New York Yankees t-shirt. She sat next to him on the bed. He ran his hand over her hair.
“I’m sorry,” he said. He leaned in and kissed her. She kissed him back. He slid his hand along her thigh, under the hem of the t-shirt. She stood up and took his hand.
“Not the bedroom,” she said and led him out of the room.
They sat across from each other at the dining room table. She held up her hands. “You need to say something.”
“What if I don’t want to? Ok, Lynnie? What if this is my shit and I don’t want to say something? I get that we’re together. And I get that means that I don’t leave the toilet seat up and that I can’t bring home girls from bars-“
“Unless I’m here and she’s really cute.”
“Fuck. I’m serious. Just because we’re doing this doesn’t mean that I have to let you into every single corner of my world.”
Carolyn went silent.
“Maybe I thought this was something else. Something it wasn’t. I guess I was wrong.” She stood up. He countered.
“No. You don’t get to do that. I was just in an ambulance and you were trying to come find me in hospital. At least I hope you were. I’m not exactly as the peak of health. I feel like someone threw me into a cement mixer. It’s fine and I’ll be okay. But you don’t get to turn this into a pity party for you. It can’t be some “my boyfriend doesn’t open up” bullshit gripe session. Because that’s not what this is. Now, I’m sorry if I scared you. But, you don’t need to know about this.”
“You won’t tell me anything?”
“There’s nothing to tell. I’ve had these, whatever, things, since I was about fourteen. I had the tests. They’re not seizures. I’ve seen lots of doctors, they don’t know what it is. That’s it. Doesn’t happen a lot. But every once in a while, I fall asleep and I have a bad dream. While I’m there, I see horrible things. My body goes completely mad, and then, after a while, I wake up. The end.”
“Your accent just got stronger,” she said.
“I know.”
“So, it’s a really bad nightmare? Like a night terror?” she asked.
“Maybe. Not that simple.”
“Have you seen-
“A shrink? Sure. Two handfuls. And a priest. And a Buddhist monk. And two different reiki body workers. And an Ayurvedic healer who was obscenely weird but she had this really awesome lavender oil. I still have some.”
“It sounds awful,” she said.
“Absolutely not. The lavender is brilliant,” he said.
“What’s your issue? Since we’re sharing. What’s in your medicine cabinet? Since we’re sharing.”
“Nothing,” she said.
“Rubbish. You have nothing at all in your cabinet? And you don’t have to tell me? Not my business. But you see where I’m headed.”
“Probiotic. Which I never remember. Sometimes I take this hair supplement. But I usually forget that too. I don’t take anything on purpose.”
“I take a lot. Every day. I always remember.”
“I don’t-“
“Yeah. You don’t know what to say. That’s why I didn’t want to talk about it. This bloody thing, it takes over everything. It’s why I had to move from the country to London. And then here.”
“I thought you liked the city?” she asked.
“It’s fine,” he said.
“So, what do I do? If it happens again, do I call the ambulance? Is there a pill or a smelling salt or something I need to make happen?”
“You’re sticking around for when it happens again?”
“I am. I’ve got more fight than you’d imagine.”
“I know. That’s why I bought you that awful drink in the first place.”
“Okay,” she said, “Gin is not an awful drink.”
“Awful. Just bloody awful”, he said. He closed his eyes and reached for her hand. By the time he took his next breath, he was sound asleep. She nudged his gently. He moaned without opening his eyes. Taking him by the shoulder, she guided him to his feet and then step-by-step, got him back to her bedroom. She tried to pull back her covers, but he slumped onto the bed before she could. The corner was nudged under his neck and head like a sad, flat little pillow. She quoted low and lugged his long legs up onto the bed. He mumbled. Then shivered. She folded the other half, her half of the comforter over him. He mumbled again. She stared. Not taking her eyes off him, she back up to the corner, kicked a laundry basket of of the way, and sat. He breathed. She watched.

147 E. 9th Street

 

 

I love scary.

For the story I’m working on, I wanted to stick a shaky finger right into what scares me. Fear changes as we age. Stakes are higher. There really are things that can knife you where it hurts, and not just physically. Being personally helpless is bad enough. But the thought of not being able to keep safe the ones in my charge is heart-stopping. So, it becomes a matter of the ‘where’ and the ‘who’, that build the scaffold so the scary ‘what’ can climb through the window of your worst nightmare.

When I write, I sometimes start with the place. For this one, it’s New York City. Love it. And it scares the shit out of me. Don’t think I’m alone in saying place can be frankly terrifying, but that risk is what makes it singularly spectacular. Nothing to do with vandals and muggers. It’s bigger and less precise. It’s the feeling of being lost and finding yourself just this side of overwhelmed and incapacitated is what makes it magic in its majesty. For this story, it is the perfect place to be in love, or be blissfully personally or professionally fulfilled, or to be scared to the base of your soul.

More specific than place is the people. What about people? Most are just lousy, but not scary. But the thought of being without your people, your circle, losing one of your crew, losing yourself, the ones you love. That’s what scares me.  So in writing about something that shakes you to your core, you also consider what you love the most and would be most lost without.

The piece I’m tossing up here today takes a sweeping glance at those things. Being not only geographically at sea, but being unprepared, ill-equipped, without information and assistance. And because of that, standing to lose someone barely a chance to reach out a hand to pull them back to you. That thought keeps me up at night.

So, pulling back the curtain for a peek, here is a sample of my new short story.   A work in progress, to be sure. But the general scent of the thing.

East Village

East Village, Photo credit: Me, Driving in New York City. Ain’t nothing scarier. 

 

147 E. 9th St.

     She was moving in slow motion, steps and half frames and she watched in fractions of centimeters the door frame scrape the skin from the knuckle of her middle finger and she saw, but didn’t feel, the blood surface above the skin. First in tiny, segmented pixel dots until they multiplied and then assembled into a line of red that crept to her wrist. Every time she turned her cheap key copy in the lock of her boyfriend’s apartment, she banged her knuckles. But she had never been in this much of a hurry. But moving so slowly. The key fell from the lock and crashed on the welcome mat. A drop of blood fell on silver and gold when she scooped them up and jammed the key back into the lock. Through the window she could still see him. Shawn. Slumped in his chair. Wrong. Crooked and stiff. Like he was immovable. Not drunk. Not sleeping. Trapped in his own locked body. Finally the door gave way and she pushed her way inside to him.
     Her mind went blank. They had only been dating a few months. It had come on hard and fast between them. She thought she had played it cool, making him wait until the third date to sleep with him. Only to come flying into his bed not even twelve hours later. By the end of the second month, she’d met his mother and had a key to his place. But right know, she realized knew nothing about this man.
     “Shawn. Shawn!” she yelled. He didn’t flinch. She dropped to her knees in from of him. His neck was extended back, not just looking to the ceiling but past it. HIs arms were fully extended, fingers gripped on the chair. She shook him. HIs body moved in one steel piece, not in any fleshy segments. His phone was on the floor by her knees. The screen was black. Dead. She ran to her bag, searching. She gave up and turned it upside down, crawling into the pile of purse debris.
     “SHIT!” she screamed, skidding change and mints and a tampon across the floor as she flailed her arm. Somehow her arm crashed down to her hip and she felt her own phone, jutting out of her back pocket. It took her four tries with as many deletes, but she finally dialed 911.
     She didn’t remember saying anything. The phone was somewhere near her and she tried to listen. To hear for a heartbeat, to feel for breathing. She left him to run back to the front door. She couldn’t remember his apartment number. No, she didn’t know if her was epileptic. No she didn’t know if he was diabetic. Or allergic to cilantro. No she didn’t think he took drugs. Did she know? No. She just knew it looked like he was dying in front of her.

I’ll let you know what form this takes as more of it unfolds. Until then, happy haunting.