14 March 2009

Sharper Than She Ever Imagined

It hardly seemed worth it but still she tried to avoid the worst and deepest of the puddles. Drenched for the most part even swaddled against the weather—-raincoat, hat, and leaky rubber boots—Sheila went through the pointless motions of trying to stay dry even as ice water ran down the back of her neck. She was a beige and gray woman toiling through a black and gray cityscape, damp and defeated. Just finding her way home was an ordeal and once arrived, no comfort awaited.

Was it surprising that Sheila found no joy in her life? If she were to do away with herself, would those who might find her body be puzzled that she had killed herself? After the landlord forced the door to find her there forgotten save for the stink of her, would they ask themselves why, oh why with so much to live for, why in heaven’s name did this woman take her own life? Sheila thought not.

Looking at herself in the bathroom mirror, the only mirror in her house, Sheila pondered not the “why?” of her impending suicide but, instead, she meditated on the “going through with it and doing it right.” She had, after all, been disappointed by so much during her 25 years that she quite rightly feared that her own demise would prove a bungle or a let-down or just another waste of time.

There was loneliness. There were longings unsatisfied, goals unattained, dreams and wishes unrealized. Sheila mined her memory for a reason not to die in the same way she looked at the ceramic knickknack, a shepherdess with crook and lamb, adorning an otherwise barren shelf and she struck nothing in either to stop her self-destruction. No single part existed by which she could justify the whole.

Sheila endured a childhood unremarkable for it’s very lack of remark, no awards or ribbons or certificates of achievement, friendless and awkwardly so, tolerated by parents barely tolerable themselves until her after-graduation flight to a different kind of solitude as if that would be a cure. There were some terms at a university where Sheila floundered in confusing classes with even more confusing classmates before she skulked away with her lackluster Cs and Ds and no one even noticed that she’d left.

She felt like putty. She learned that she was soft and without angles, malleable had anyone ever cared to mold her though not even her professors had indicated that possibility. She was beige and gray and invisible. Sheila made herself available, no one responded, and she didn’t know what else to do. She sat her life lumpenly.

There was a job then and more pointless hours earning pointless money that only ensured she could pay her pointless bills so she could work some more and acquire more bills. Sheila met no one though she tried, could connect with no coworker or neighbor despite her tentative overtures, and she could make no friends. She cashed her checks and shopped for her groceries and moved about the world as if sealed inside a jar.

The blossoming she awaited never occurred and her appearance was, to be generous, drab and her personality, to be truthful, was unfinished. She was putty and, had she been truly visible, Sheila knew she would be recognized as such and then ignored all over again. It was all a losing proposition.

Sheila said “hello” and and she said “goodbye” to the few people she encountered in the courses of her beige, gray, softly sodden days and counted those as her relationships.

“Goodnight, Rodger,” she said to her manager when she left the shop each workday.

“Take it easy, Sheel,” he answered and she always tried to do that and she never quite could.

“Hello,” she told the bank teller. “I’d like to cash this check.”

“Have a nice day, Ms. Cord,” the teller always admonished her. Sheila knew that she wouldn’t have a nice day, that she couldn’t have a nice day, that she couldn’t even manage to take it easy.


Dark days followed darker nights. In winter mud, wet and cloying cold, she slouched her way to and from the place of her pointless employment and past the shops where she made her purchases. Along the way back to her rooms, Sheila would stop in those shops and purchase the tins and boxes from which she ate. Her days off were even worse than her days at work for she truly had nowhere to go with only the television to remind her that other people existed. She’d sit and eat, silent and unmoved and growing larger and softer as the programs unreeled before her. Sheila never laughed and she never cried and she eventually would turn off the machine and sit in silence or sleep until it was time for work again.

The futility of this repetition was beginning to become apparent. She could find no compelling reason to keep doing any of it and, one beige, gray afternoon on her way to her rooms from where she worked, Sheila added to her purchases one small paper package of razor blades called “safety” though why she could not understand why. They seemed seductively dangerous to her.
And so, balanced on the edge of her not very clean tub in her very not clean bathroom, it was with true and real surprise that she saw the paper packet of razor blades she opened with the desire to open her arteries continue to open and open more and more and further and further beyond the possibilities of its apparent size and shape, beyond the limits of its own dimensions and begin unfolding and unsheathing and opening again and again and then again in ways both strange to witness and unimaginable until before her stood a being, a form composed of knives, needles, razor blades, jagged shards, and smooth scalpels, opening more and spreading to become a kind of metallic person, a jumble of sharp angles and cutting edges, a face like a flower of cutting steel and glass and flint, like a fan of knives.

It then spoke to her with a voice composed of tuned metals, a voice that sounded like ripping rippled foil, like iron nails dragged across a shattered mirror, like shattering obsidian, like a bundle of needles disturbed to friction.

“Sheila, dear,” his voice insinuated the room. And the creature there trembled with light gathered and magnified and reflected, a blinding aura of potential, and the potential of a blade in repose. “So sad.”

“Yes,” she replied. “Oh, yes. So sad.”

He shimmered as he moved and the shivering sounds of sharp edges run across each other accompanied the sight. He was disorienting and beautiful and very, very frightening. Sheila wanted to cry but was afraid to do so.

“Afraid?” he asked her.


“Sad and afraid,” he pondered. “This is no way to live.”

“I know,” Sheila answered. “It isn’t. I don’t want to. I don’t know how.”

“You wish for something,” he continued. “You wish for more.”

“Yes,” she affirmed. “More. Much much more.”

“And here you sit with me.”


“Then we shall sit together for awhile,” with his voice brittle and sharp and comforting in a clean sort of way.

‘How strange,’ she thought that there at the pinnacle of her isolation and upon the cusp of her demise, she would finally find a friend, a confidant, a person (or a sort of a person) who seemed to care for her. ‘How strange. How beautiful. How perfect.’

“How strange. How beautiful. How perfect,” he told her.

His gentlest touch, his lightest contact, and Sheila bled. The sounds of their caresses were the sounds made when skin parts whisper-soft under surgeons’ knives. Still, her longing grew within the glow of candlelight and flavored wine, the flickering reflections that her razor-man shed, and she grew both bold and slightly anesthetized. She flirted with her razor-man.

Sheila reached to touch his face and she did touch his face and then she put her bleeding forefinger into her mouth to taste the blood he had brought forth from inside her.

“Does this hurt you?” he asked as his lingering touch drew a line of deep iron red from her skin, a crimson line of contour from below her ear traveling down her neck and across the tops of her breasts. The line gaped, a fault line filled with blood.

“No,” she answered him. “Never. It will never hurt me to be touched.”

And she kept telling him “no” even when the real answer was emphatically “yes” until she could no longer speak at all but could only open more and more under his embrace, until his kisses skinned her face and her eyes rolled white, her teeth gleamed white all the way back to her molars against the shocking red shine of her naked muscles and bone. Sheila’s meat quivered in the open air.

“You are becoming beautiful,” he told her as he stripped away the lie of her and revealed the true of her. Free of flesh and yellow fat, her mouth fell open like a flower all long tooth, white bone, and sheets of red muscle along her jaw. “So beautiful.”

The cold, wet air on her now-exposed nerves sent Sheila’s senses reeling, the sheer weight of pain overwhelming her capacity for rational thought. She became her own reactions and there, teetering along borders she had only dimly imagined, Sheila lost her sanity in a blinding rush of agony and new-found love.

Her razor-lover gently turned back the layers surrounding her throat, peeled open her skin and fascia and muscle down to the very cartilage and he opened that, too; the rush of cool air through Sheila’s new orifice slobbered her devotion and its concomitant ecstasy.

Beige and gray no longer, Sheila blossomed crimson, scarlet, deep burgundy red under his attentions and each caress exposed something new and secret and long hidden away from view.

It was all revelation.

Each uncovering brought new jolting wonder, agony, and awareness. Unobscured by eyebrow or eyelid, her vision sharpened; she saw cleanly and she saw clearly, and she watched with naked eyeballs as what had once been inside her spilled outside and spread uncoiling across the floor in a multicolored slick of organ meat and membrane.

“Beautiful,” she marveled at her own concealed colors, awed and humbled that she’d carried them so long and unaware. Sheila thrilled as the blades that were his hands and fingers cupped her breasts and whispered them to ribbons, hanging shreds of golden fat and meat. The white-hot stab of billowing pain carried her nearly outside herself as her flesh shredded with his caress, hot floods of her brilliantly oxygenated blood laving them both.

Sheila reached to stroke his cheeks, to return his loving touch, and watched the skin and meat of her fingertips fall away in translucent slices against the angled edges of his features and each slice brought the nerves in her hands closer to her surface, each nerve singing electric fire into her overloaded brain.

She couldn’t tell if the wetness between her legs was purely sex or just what was left of her sex, her genitals in tatters, fragments, and still pumping pure, white-hot sensation to the glowing nucleus of her cerebral cortex. The feeble orgasms that used to reward her clumsy, lonely masturbation were burned to cinders by the heat of what was exploding inside her newly skinned skull. All other joy and sorrow, all other emotion and feeling withered away under the awful raw burning that swept Sheila toward willing destruction. Helpless in her razor-lover’s embrace, she arched and arced and convulsed herself enough to fling her colors against the wall, great swathes of red and yellow and lines of blue across the rotten plaster and shining brighter than any paint or pigment.

And as what Sheila was becoming rose above her flayed self and as what Sheila had once been fell heaped beneath, she found herself, for the moment, alone and bleeding in her bathroom. Her razor-man fled in sudden collapse upon himself and back down to the small and dangerous blade held in her hand, and Sheila could take a breath to contemplate her new and profound state of nudity, her slavery to pure sensation. This she did and she saw that she was a red woman, a blindingly white woman, and fully opened in a room awash with color until she was quite nothing at all.

12 March 2009

Cleaning Up

Late Summer/Early Fall 1989
Miami, Florida

I've already unloaded the truck and I've got all the equipment and supplies prepared, but first I take a look at the job. I won't have to worry about the carpet; they usually just tear it up and throw it away, but the walls and the bathroom floor and the tile and the grouting will have to be soaked and scrubbed and soaked and scrubbed again and again.

I remember reading about this one in the paper a couple of months ago; I saw the live-cam report when they pulled her body out of the apartment in a black bag strapped to one of those ambulance trolley-beds. For a murder like this, the cops usually keep the place completely sealed off for at least a month, often more, and when it's finally released to the owner, the owner calls Tate or someone like Tate and Tate calls me or someone like me to clean the place up so someone like who used to live here can come and live here again. I guess it's one of those "somebody's-got-to-do-it" kind of jobs and I guess I mind cleaning up blood and brains more than I thought I would but a lot less, I guess, than I ought to.

They'd been drinking, I could see that from the garbage still scattered through the kitchen and the bedroom--brown bottles that once held beer, now long evaporated, and one of those giant plastic jugs of cheap vodka the DrugMart liquor department always has on sale. The blood starts there, in the kitchen, as a few spatters on the wall near the table, like she'd been slapped or punched while sitting down and then a small, streaked pool in the sink like she'd leaned over with her hand to her mouth or her cheek or the side of her head as she moaned and tried to daub the wound and a few smears along the short hallway where someone had dragged a hand like maybe she was stumbling or not wanting to be dragged toward the small bedroom.

Of course, the landlord will repaint the walls so all I really have to do is make sure he doesn't have to use two coats. That's means bleach from a spray bottle and a good scrub down to the dry-wall with scouring pads, maybe some more bleach, and a quick once-over with sandpaper to even out the texture.

I wear latex gloves, of course, and knee pads and sometimes I have to wear a mask because of the smells that may have accumulated especially in the summer like in this apartment, like old meat and pennies, like something sweet hovering inside a mouth full of the worst breath you could imagine in the morning only worse and stale air built up since all the windows and doors have been sealed for weeks and weeks and weeks.

In the bedroom, I just push the bedclothes into black plastic bags without even looking because I will leave them by the front door for the cops or the landlord to take or throw away. I don't care. Sheets and blankets and pillow cases and one of those comforters they sell for twenty dollars or so at the local discount chain store--blue and green stripes in a synthetic fabric overlaid with a chaotic mass of black, red, rust colored blood. They used to all match. I might use the steam gun on the wall above the headboard to make it all soft and scrubbable. Why break my back?

I will definitely use the steam in the bathroom since it's mostly tile and porcelain and can take the heat. The sink where someone tried to clean himself up, clean her blood from his hands and forearms, will get blasted and the towels, the same sad blue and green, go into more black bags like the bag the former tenant went into and I'll have to really get out the tools to scrub the tiles and especially the grouting around them under the sink and around the toilet. It will take some hours, here, and Tate will swing by around lunch time to see if I want to eat, which I won't, and if I get done before six o'clock he'll want to know if I want to go with him to take a look at another job, which I won't but I will, and maybe it will be somebody's flood-damaged basement or somebody's tenant-damaged trailer home or somebody's child-damaged formal dining room or maybe it will just be somebody's damage, which I hope it isn't, and we'll talk a little about the best way to clean it all up.

Another Reason, An Important Reason

It was just after the solstice and the day stayed full sunlit until well into the evening and she rose from where she had been reclined, rose from the magazine through which she had been reading and she stood barefoot on the pale wood planks of the floor and the light behind her from the window outlined her golden and she said, "Do you want to see me naked?" as she began to unbutton her jeans.

He turned to where she stood between his eye and the sun low toward the western horizon and the spark of her in the room and what she'd said and what she was doing caused him to make his mouth make a small and significant smile and yes, he did so very much want to see her naked there in that light washed room and glowing.

And she was.

11 March 2009

Black Lacquer Heart Drastically Reduced

Chinese New Year, Sanya, Hainan Island, People’s Republic of China, 1986

Elegant and dramatic in a timeless discount warehouse way,
not only does this surface protect and seal the composite material beneath,
it is easy to clean with a damp cloth.
It is seamless.

It's the odor of sweat and coconut oil and the musk that pours off both our bodies
as we're fucking in the strong South China sun on the balcony of our hotel room.
It's a head full Chinese vodka and the aftertaste of beer--yeast and hops and something else—and the aftertaste of vagina, musk and low orchids. It's almost summer.

"Fists of Wushu Whirling Around in the Air Really Fast" is on the downstairs television
and fists of wushu are making that shrill snapping-fabric noise which may or may not be a special effect.

It's the same images over and over again, the same odors and the same sounds;
damp grass, diesel, lonely roads, a high wall with broken glass embedded on top.
It is rotten chlorophyll and meat, the air warm, perhaps chemical, perhaps not.
There are crickets and dogs barking,
there are lights in the distance,
house lights and streetlights and headlights,
but it is always dark.

As we walked along chatting, we drew near a beggar.
"Spare a yuan?" the ragged guy raggedly croaked.
Without saying anything, Sara reached into her coat pocket and
Pulled out one of our miniature bottles of vodka.
"There you go," she said as she held it out to the beggar.
"Thanks," the guy said. "You’re okay for dead demon foreign ghosts."

What if A-bombs are really some kind of time machine and all the people at Hiroshima and Nagasaki who got "vaporized" were actually kicked out and away and somewhere else and they exist there still in that moment when the bombs exploded?

Once, back in America, when I was walking along thinking about something else completely, a bum asked me, “Spare change?” and I said “No, thanks.” I thought he was trying to give me some of his.

And still I return to those memories of rotten fish, of my friends and their flesh,
of burning grease an aphrodisiac in the air heavy and thick around us,
why we put those flavors in our mouths,
upon what that oil were smeared
for us to savor and taste and
return to again and again in our heads.

10 March 2009

Making Green

He is careful. He uncoils the hose so there are no knots or kinks that could lead to disaster; he threads the brass connectors carefully, mindful of their grooves and how easily they might be stripped. He loops one section around his forearm, stoops to turn the faucet there emerging from the house, and water flows. It is a perfect thing. His thumb covers the outlet in such a way that the spray is diffused, is distributed into an even fan of moisture, just the right amount to cover without beating the flowers and bushes with which he begins his watering.

This is perfection, he thinks. He moves his arms in gentle patterns to cover everything growing against the side of the house. All the lilac, the last of the tulip, the rose, the forsythia, and the lobelia hidden all receive their droplets in measured doses. Each is satisfied and none denied. This is perfection, he thinks.

A light goes on in a window near where his plants are. The new illumination confirms his efforts. The greenery is practically stretching to gather his gift, the blessing moisture, into its tendrils, petals, fronds, leaves, roots. Earthworms themselves rise to the softening surface to gasp and to gather. The light goes off and he turns his back to the satiated.

"I'll be back," he whispers. "Be patient. Just wait."

And then the lawn, an expanse of green (he knows it is green though no moon shines against, no light reflects from its manicured blades) waits expectant and trembling in anticipation.

"Hello," he says. "Are you thirsty?"

His thumb moves the precise fraction to change the flow, to allow the arcs of water distance and coverage. His arm swings faster, more forcefully, and more potent to cover the eager.

"This is for you," he tells it. "This is all for you."

Another light goes on, a door opens, and a thin voice calls from the doorway. "Dad? Dad?"

He snaps a coil of hose behind him, takes up all the slack, and moves to another thirsty section. He avoids wasting water on asphalt or concrete.

"Dad?" the voice enjoins. "Dad, are you coming in?"

Behind the voice there are noises of ice in glasses and he knows that until that ice is melted, there will be no water there.

"Dad? What are you doing?"

He trails the long, green hose with its reptile-patterned skin behind him as he stalks the lawn and he can imagine the rising sun and the way rainbows will spark from the smooth sheets of clear water that erupt from his hands.

Originally published in Blue Mesa Review 4
Albuquerque, New Mexico 1992

09 March 2009

Ethics in a Gunfight

Pike Bishop: He gave his word.
Dutch Engstrom: He gave his word to a railroad.
Pike Bishop: It's his word.
Dutch Engstrom: That ain't what counts! It's who you give it to!

The Wild Bunch
Sam Peckinpah

08 March 2009

Garnish Trouble

Uh oh,” I said to myself when I saw the slices of lemon she’d twisted into möbius strips and then placed precisely at eleven and one o'clock on my plate. “This is new.”

I didn't really mention that I’d noticed, though, because I wanted to see how things developed, to watch what direction this issue of pleasing the eye as well as the palette might take, to see if there was an advantage for me hidden there somewhere.

Over the weeks that passed, I found myself eating the shells of ripe tomatoes she’s layered like the petals of roses and filled with deviled chicken; I ate toast cut to resemble the symbols found on playing cards and she put fresh raspberry jam on the hearts and the diamonds and she put black currant preserves on the spades and the clubs.

I would nod in a noncommittal manner at each of these presentations but I would also make low noises that could be taken for warm appreciation. Sometimes I would raise my eyebrows in way that could be interpreted as delighted amusement.

I ate palm trees made from carrot sticks and jalapeño peppers; I ate an entire canned ham sculpted into an entire school of goldfish with kalamata olive bubbles; I also ate the arabesqued watermelon rind that doubled as my salad bowl. I began to make more noises at meal times, noises more obviously associated with approval. I began to say things like “Would you look at that?”

With the swinging door held open, my palm flat against it, I saw her knives spread along the kitchen counter, her back to me as she obliviously bent herself to transform a rib roast into some marvelous, colorful creature.

And parsley. There was parsley everywhere.