View Full Version : A story that I share

02-15-2006, 09:36 PM
Sometimes I write things.

I thought I'd share this with y'all, if for no other reason than David gets a brief mention somewhere 'round the middle. It needs a polish, I think, but it's clean enough that I'm not afraid to let the neighbors see it.

Just wanted to say thanks to you, David, for providing a constant reminder, through your art, that sometimes you need to just shut up and do it. Ukiko and Akemi have been a constant inspiration.

(And a quick note for the record - this is licensed under Creative Commons, more info about which can be found on my site.)


The Book I Never Wrote

I was lighting a Blue when she walked up, shielding the sputtering Bic with a dog-eared volume of Eddie Campbell, and so what I saw were her violet Chucks, laces cut short and the knots congealed in hot glue. Written in tiny ball-point along the inside sole of her right was a series of glyphs that I had time to translate as I took the first drag, "I owned these before the fucking band," and I could imagine the pen warping under the strength of her angry marks during morning meeting, having heard the single on her drive in. Her knuckles white as the soft plastic (cracking at the heel) and the too-sharp point of her tongue jammed in the crevice where her rear teeth were spaced wrong. I remembered the topography after eight years, sometimes traced the lines in my head as I drifted off to sleep on those nights when the work wasn't coming together and it seemed I was the only one in the world despite the cries of two squealing tires outside and four flights down. The pen would have borne those patterns as well, overlaid again and again until the length was halved and it found the dustbin. She'd always had an oral compulsion, one you could trace through split-ends, the phone cord in her parents' kitchen, fossils old and recent. And then in our second year, still feeling shitty when I'd ask her to go down on me, and she'd just crack her gum and say it was okay when it was clear that it wasn't. I hefted my Freshman backpack higher on my shoulders.

"Hey, Pit." like threadbare velvet, and I looked up through a soft haze. I let the cigarette stretch outward from my lips, pointed right at her, and blinked once like I was considering the word, or wondering who she was. I responded with a "Hey, Piper J" through a belch of smog, and was rewarded with a thin smile. She fished in a quilted purse for a time interminable and unsheathed something in Ultra Lights and fired one with what looked like a ceramic frog. "Do you need help carrying--?" But I had to draw an early line, and a raised eyebrow marked that as a misstep on her part. Both of us had our hands on unspoken gunbelts. I hoisted my shoulder bag up a little further and slipped the book into a side pocket, held my hand out. She started to take a step forward until she saw that I was motioning for her to lead the way to her car.

Her weight had fluctuated then, and so neither possibility would have surprised me, but I felt a little hole open in my stomach when I saw that she was thin again. The ribbon of skin between halter top and denim was smooth but a hard white. She couldn't tan. I knew that I was darker than I was. I transferred the Blue to fingers and took the chance while her back was turned to wet cracked lips. I could hear her knuckles crack.

"Did you have to wait long?"

"Huh? No, no, I just got here." Reaching up from either side, rolling up her shoulders, were a pair of geometric tattoos that now seemed so much more faded.

"Did you get anything done on the bus?"

"Not a bit." It was her jeans, though, that I couldn't avoid, that my gaze orbited. I made a "burn upon reentry" joke to myself and didn't laugh. They were freckled with holes and frays, scraped open all over. Pock-marked with white clouds on sky blue. One cuff had exploded, would eventually dissolve upwards. I didn't think ripped was in or out, I didn't think much of anything.

"I like your shirt." I looked down to see what it actually was that I was wearing. Bill Hicks t-shirt, split at one shoulder. I brushed at it absently.


Dawn was still breaking, and our voices echoed down the wide charcoal spiral; and what returned was a me, a her, still waiting for the world to come to them. As an adult you never realize how tired your voice is until you’re reminded what it used to sound like.

Her car was compact and hybrid, had fallen out of a box of Crayolas. I was watching the outline of her bra straps shift beneath a field of melon, straining against her wings, when she stopped short and turned. Our smoke mated in a dirty tangle, and I nearly fell on her, which she enjoyed. I smiled, she didn't.



"Do you want breakfast?"

Burnt umber framed like mis-measured curtains. One of us hiccupped.

"I could eat."

"How long before you have to...?"

"All the time in the world."


We didn't look at each other in the car, perhaps shoring each other up for the inevitable face-off across a table. My natural instinct in a car's passenger seat would have my palm against the back of her headrest, my foot up on the dash. Instead I felt small. I crossed my legs carefully and tried to listen as she crowded the space between us with words.

“So, Dawn calls me into the office, and she asks me if I’ve seen the memo, which wasn’t even in my mailbox, so I say no, and it turns out while it’s CC’d to everyone, it’s totally addressing me specifically; because when I asked Bob if I needed approval from Lucy to set up the meeting with Tim, even though they said when I started that I could call meetings on ‘my own initiative,’ which is such bullshit… but really, Dawn is just pissed off at Tim because he contradicted her on the reports last month and got Lucy to sign off on it, which I’d thought was resolved. So Dawn gets all passive-aggressive with me, and then in the afternoon we’re all trying to discuss that situation I told you about before, Tim comes up with this schedule that doesn’t even make sense because everyone would have to shift blocks around? And Dawn rushes to okay it, and I’m sitting here, like, you forgot who you were mad at in the first place, you bitch! But Lucy just gives me this little shrug, so now I have something like double my work-load on Thursdays, even though…”

I have trouble sleeping. It started not long after we met. Trying to sew words together under Orion’s gaze, clamping the pillow around my ears to block out the fears I keep locked away in the daylight as I golem through town in a haze of half-awareness. Stillness can close around like a vise, and it’s all I can do to remember where I am. Her story was a forest. Periodic assertions of her nobility, and I dial the window open, let the sharp cold exhaust of the city force my eyes open.

She used to say I never listened.


The salt on the walk outside was crushed diamond. The weather kept changing. She aimed for my shin beneath the table and hit the tension instead, or vice versa. “You ass,” over my cat’s mewl. “Why didn’t you tell me that you switched to contacts?”

“Didn’t think – and ow – that it was very important.”

“It makes you look like someone else.”

“Be thankful I let my hair grow back. I had it buzzed down for years.” Instead something like a crushed Manga pompadour in sienna. I’d meant to cut it down again, couldn’t remember why I hadn’t.

“Well, don’t think that I don’t appreciate the thought.” A dry amusement from her that I remembered; I used to try to provoke it. The first time I succeeded was when I finally wore her down into a late dinner; a place like this with menus in the shape of flapjacks and faint paisley or plaid beneath the sheen of each table. A kingdom for swivel-top stools and a blue haired ‘Flo!’ Her face went unreadable, then, and her eyes flicked to the window. “Pit? What’s it like to…” Pause. “No, bad example. You’re lucky, though… getting to travel. See the country.”

“Maybe sometimes.”

“’Scuse me, doll.” The waitress set down plates, and I hadn’t remembered ordering. “Your name is ‘Pit’?”

“I was a pit boxer.” Forkful of hashed brown.

“He looks like Kid Icarus.” Her face was insufferably cute. “That’s why.” The waitress didn’t appear to get the reference, which I was perfectly fine with. When she’d left, I held up my hard-boiled egg and lit up. You can still smoke indoors in Fusco, art’s last refuge.

“Okay, this is America, okay? Fragile, hollow, quickly consumed… but with this incredible potential and life at its heart.” I might as well have brought index cards, “Terry McInroe’s Greatest Hits.” She tilted her head.

“You’ve changed, but you haven’t.”

“Sounds like quantum physics.” Shuffling the food around my plate.

“Still into that stuff, huh?”

“It’s research.”

Pointing with her glass. “You say that about everything you like.”

In a multiverse where every choice occurs somewhere, somewhen, does that make it easier or harder to make them in the first place?

“Speaking of. You haven’t said how all that’s going.”

“Oh, you know. Going.”

“That’s really great.”

Sarah’s tattoo. A pair of wings, airplane wings, along her back, against her shoulder blades in vertical. And so her name or for her name, I can’t recall. The shoulders are close to the skin, they say it hurts more. She used to say it was… how did it go… but it was her little symbol of escape. And then I was the one who flew. I left for the stars, and so she was the one who lived in the world. Grass is always greener. She looked down at my plate, and so did I, as I’d been bending the fork with my thumb. Dancing in a minefield. The things we couldn’t forget were the things we wish we hadn’t said.


“You don’t have to go in with me.”

“Aw, c’mon! It sounds like fun.” The bird call of her car’s auto-locks.

“It really isn’t.” Side by side , as the doors slid to admit. The Frosh in the car, but the satchel at my side as always. Forms in the pocket with the Campbell. Pen behind the ear.

"What's the name of the company again?" Stage whispers.

"ISM... Sorry. Informed Shopping Management."


"I know. Now shh, this is a pretty major client."

"Should I pretend to be your fianceé or something?"

"...If you want." Prowling the aisles. The face of America, written on babydoll tees and twelve dollar flip-flops. This was Patchwork Earth, here, a knit quilt of disparate worlds that could be rearranged on the fly. You had to laugh. Whose hand set these patterns? I remember riding through bronzed Arizona, where the snowbirds lived in a different identical house every year, never knowing their own address. Everyone wrapping themselves in plastic film and slotting themselves on a rack until the next point of sale shift.

Once upon a time, there was a boy and he met a girl. There were more original beginnings, but perhaps rarely a truer one. The boy was a master of an ancient art; of burial, of distance. The girl made masks. What quantum chance would lead them both to lower their guard at once? They learned just enough of each other to be angry they couldn't find more, and they were so deep within that they could take each other apart on the way out. We were never shy in each other's gravity, but traded that for insufferable. Freedom had festered for eight years. How can you be so glad to be away from someone when you'd left so much of yourself with them?

Stationery department. Looking through sheaves of paper and emblazoned notepads. I couldn't work on paper after her. It would remind me of cramped back seats and stretched canvas, gymnasiums done up in ninety-nine cent streamers. We did our best to look adrift, and nobody came to rescue us. After an appropriate count, I had to black-mark them. Jewelry went better for them and worse for us. She cooed over earrings she'd rather die than wear, slipping fully into her game. She held my hand until she felt my sweat. By the time we reached the far corner, beneath elevated bicycles, my head was pounding. It’s those times you remember being shocked by, the first time you’re shopping for shoes, or for groceries; domestic Americana, private vision of the future. Riding your cart in the parking lot, splashing puddles. Wondering, maybe everything’s going to be okay after all.

"I'm sorry, I guess that was kinda dumb."

"Huh?" On the racks of action figures, nostalgia was in. Your childhood restocked with added muscles and day-glo.

"The whole sitcom pretend-to-be-a-couple thing. I thought it'd be funny."

"It's okay." He-Man looked constipated, glaring at nothing with crossed eyes. My kidneys were tense. "I shouldn't be so uptight. I only took this one today so they wouldn't count it a sick day. It's obviously not my territory."

"Can I help you folks?" A constellation of zits idled up in a monochrome vest. I turned and wrapped my arm around her.

"Actually, yes. Our goddaughter's birthday is coming up, and she's a bit of a tomboy..." And she eased into me, laid a gentle hand on my chest.


The second floor studio-and-a-half was lit dim through a stained glass bulb, a kitchen in eggshell and olive green where I laid my bags down on Formica next to an ashtray of blown square. Everything was coated in Seventies and nicotine film. Above the couch, a wall of LP sleeves all perpendicular. I tried to imagine Piper borrowing a stepladder, a ruler, a level; I wondered whose hands had held the ladder steady. I traced up and down the crumbling squares, faces sealed in mylar: The Boss and The Clash, Stones and Ramones, Lawrence Arms, Red Alert, Fever Dream Five. And next to the first from Natalie’s Magic was of course the self-titled Violet Chucks, because she had to prove me wrong at everything. I remembered when we’d argue the lyrics to old pop, and I could only win when she couldn’t see the song for how sad it would turn out in the end.

She scratched wildly through her hair. “’Scuse me one second.” And the bathroom door shut, leaving me to circle slowly on the balls of my feet like I was looking for something to steal. On one windowsill, there was something sad about an empty martini glass and a dying roll of masking tape.

I drew my laptop like a sword, found a home for it by the window. Shades of Virginia Woolf. She’d cleared a spot for me already. My files were keyed to open at boot, and each unraveled thread stared up at me, the cries of the mortally wounded. Its world was too large; each fractal segment, each offhand note a well, a void that I’d been falling down and through, each handhold another spiral. How do you map territory so folded in, where the surface area stretches out so far? Better living through phrenology. It was amorphous, it absorbed everything it touched. I was Chabon’s midnight victim, forever adding more coal to the runaway. Each detail a hyperlink, every character a main one. Everything equally relevant until your eyes found a place to focus.

A shadow yawned across the screen. “I’ve gotta go to work now, myself. Half-day. You gonna be all right here?”

“Yeah. I’ve got errands to run, anyway.”

“I’ll bet…” So right and wrong. “Oh, right. Yeah. Here.” Fishing in skin-tight pockets to hand me something jagged in old copper.

“You didn’t… make this for me, did you?”

Rolled eyes. “It’s my spare, you retard.”

“Right. Uh, sorry.” I couldn’t read the look she gave me as she left me alone with my pet monster. I heaved the window open and lit a Blue. The view was obscured by something tall, its neon lettering too far to blind, too close to read.


The medicine cabinet mirror was a triptych; and as I opened the wings I watched myself split apart and then multiply in the refraction, cascading into the hundreds, into the infinite. Smoke and mirrors, all my alternate selves with cross-hatched eyes and hair limp from sweat. Past the mirrors was an ark, and all its passengers broke for freedom; tan bottle and its baby brother white, ladies in uneven tubes and a menagerie of stainless steel. It was the little soldiers I was hunting, they marched in order and matching orange and white, ranked through indecipherable text but each bearing that ubiquitous “Rx.” They were precious few, I saw, and I sat on the lip of the sink with a tooth-cratered comb beneath one foot.

All my memories of her were over-exposed film, or perhaps more the clean surface of a dank pool; a sliding soap bubble that distorted or magnified, dependant upon the angle. Tented on the sink was a pair of foil geometrics. You could ponder the missing condom for the rest of your days and never cease to find new horrors for yourself in that absence, that simple arithmetic. You can only tell yourself it is what it is, as though the fact of it didn’t define the ambiguity around it. Better living through tautology.

I could remember the pale of the curtains where her stomach was pumped. I could remember hanging up on her tears. These two situations are equally true. Which quantum state will you observe when the lid is re-opened? We’d both kept weaving until what was between us was a thing Gordian; too hard to tell which of us swung the sword, left us each with lines tied to nothing, scattered about like these tampons and toenail clippers.


Women in Milan blouses and pajama bottoms reading Faulkner to the silent music of electronic baubles… the compositions of their lives remixed. I met the gaze of a reflection of a man not myself through and into the next car who looked disappointed. Across the window frame a splash of coffee and the words “Hold on.” Men ascending, slap of dark shoulder bags - let them revel in playing cell phone polo. Insomnia lapses on public transit, can’t help but curl inward at the sway, the closest I remember to maternal. By the time I reach the stop I’m bolting out, gasping at urine-scented air to bring me back to the world.

Like the old joke, you just wait a few minutes. Rain blanks out the world, is claustrophobic; but snow, snow like this, you can see the shape of the world. Regained perspective, suddenly aware you exist in dimensions. Static dividing each individual layer of vision. I hadn’t bothered to bring a jacket, just hands in crowded pockets that stung with something like stigmata in the fingers, a smoker’s circulation. Blood can’t reach the heart. I stepped from the underground into this severed space, people cross-sectioned for dissection. It’s been a while since I’d come to the city.

The ciphered streets led a loose arc around the enclave where I’d once spent years of hours, but I could still find my way. was there and still open, still had the same faded standees in the window. Warmer within. The Baroque architecture of Moore and the beat poetry of Campbell, the desolate clockwork of Chris Ware, Morrison’s shamanism and Mignola’s stone-cut shadows. The mythic collage of Gaiman and McKean, and the sunlit nostalgia of Bryan Lee O’Malley. David Mack showing us a new geometric language. Dylan Horrocks outlining the map we didn’t know we had. Bande Desinée in muted colors, Tintin looking pleading.

And Manga. A labyrinth of spines in pastel, their stories stretching on into infinity. The new soap. Love is a square dance there. Just wait a few minutes. Better living through meteorology. No pain is too great that you can’t return if the audience wants to see you together. Time stretches for a thousand thousand pages, but emotions change by the panel.

At the counter. Something seventh in a series, something self-aware, something political. They didn’t remember me here. She was the only proof I existed here. Why was I buying these things now? My wallet was light. We were a generation left to raise ourselves, and we picked our parents from paper, screen, and song. After a certain age, we’re left to support them in their doddering age. Better living through genealogy. Books served back to me in a supermarket bag and into the cold. Nobody knew I was here, meeting too crazy to bring up. Imagine getting struck on these slick streets, imagine her thinking I fled, the months passing as it came out she was last to see me. My last words a rickety sex scene on the laptop and an unfilled report that dwelt too long on the toy department.

I read my books to the glow of a Blue in a doorway as beneath me the trains passed each other in groaning routine.


Nothing but the crinkle of paper. There was a cross-stitch sampler in his waiting room of "I, at any rate, am convinced that He does not throw dice.” Of course He does, Al. He made us. My legs dangled and pimpled in the chill air. My last was a pediatrician, the mourning eyes of a turtle behind glass and a hand between my legs. I never get sick anymore. Not really.

Fatal snap of rubber on wrist. “Is this your first time?”

“Uh, yeah.” When I stood my feet angled slightly toward each other.

“It’s easier if you relax.”

“I’d imagine.” The curl of tubing around a vinyl bag in his visible hand.

“You know… most religions and mythologies have a ritual, or more than one, for purgation. Cleansing.”

I had to smile, there, but wasn’t able to as something cold snaked across. “The –nn- The Maya used peyote when they did this, you know.”

“Well, I’m afraid I’m not that liberal. It might be easier to think about something else at the beginning. You said you were a writer? What’s your book about?”

“I, uh…” And then something cracked my spine in two, and I felt myself turn inside out. You try to fight it at first, and then there’s no chance to, the blood rushes and you go a little dizzy; my eyes rolled back and I couldn’t help wondering how easy it would be to type the word “format” and kill it off with a few keystrokes, take the sensations and the ideas and flush the rest out, the dirty water they were soaking in, pare it down…

I could remember the first time I sat down to write those first few words. I remember calling myself a writer for years with a folder full of spit tired moans. Sitting down with a bowl of M&Ms to make something of myself to prove to her, since I was in no hurry to prove it to myself, who already believed. Eventually someone asked to see, and I had to make something I could let fly from me, but when there was nothing left but the golem, I lashed it back to my stinging wrists.

How desperate we are to make every piece make sense when all we want to is that one thing.

“Are you all right?”

I hiccupped.

“Do you, ah… You maybe feel a little lighter?”


The faucet was a swarm of bees as it filled the pot, drowning out Rufus T. Firefly declaring war on Sarah’s DVD player. Ambiguous grammar intended, as the black box was all but catching fire. I set the pot to boil and rested a deceptively-expensive bottle of olive oil beside, futzing about with the placement until I’d ashed half the Blue on the floor.

Her coffee table was an old cobbler’s bench, bought in some PTA auction and passed along like holiday fruitcake for its overlay in macaroni and tempera. Judging from the scoring along one leg, she would work at (or rather, against) the rigid noodles with a fingernail during marathons of the BBC and Adult Swim. Propped open to one side was a leather-bound Dickens, and I lifted up to peek at uncomfortable prescience.

“Great Expectations.”

The water started to hiss, and I returned to snap the Italian reeds and let them drop. How would my books look next to hers? Tempted to arrange what I had there adjacent. There was Cory Doctorow in one pocket.

“Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town.”

It is these lazy metaphors, these minor synchronicities, that we use to stay afloat. Relevance and revelation through pop. Better living through bibliography. I thought about the distended Word file that was reflected, reflecting, in the window.


Shaking the colander, and a voice from by the window.

“Wow. Nice porn collection.”

To my credit, I didn’t drop it.

“Uh, thanks?”

“Oh, don’t be a big baby.” I set places for us, the bulging knapsack between like a child. She slid into her seat diagonally with a Cheshire look. “No meat?”

“You gave up the vegan thing?”

“Too much work.” I twined my angel hair as she cut hers. “It’s cute, though. I can see you’re working hard when you’re logged on.”

“Well, this is fun dinner conversation.” Who would slurp theirs first?

“You know, I see a lot of the same thing there.” Keep twisting the fork, maybe the whole plate would collect like a galaxy’s whorl. “Your… taste seems to keep a healthy distance from the whole thing.”

“Are you going to be my fucking therapist now?” Clatter of tines on china.

“Well, I’m just saying, between this and your job—“

“I work where I’m paid, Sarah, Christ.” Back legs squeak on linoleum. “What the fuck do you want from me? Why did you invite me here?”

“You know why.” Determined not to indulge. “Why did you come?”


The bartender said her name was Esprit and she already had a Żubrówka and apple juice waiting for Sarah. The club had maybe a half-dozen people and none on the dance floor. Esprit was dark and smooth angles like a tire iron, decked-out in 20’s tailored gangster down to the ace tucked into her brim.

“Where is everyone?”

Piper grumbled something, and Esprit winked as she poured me a lager.

“We used to be the spot. But when the crowd got older, they found places to live around here, and forgot why they’d picked the neighborhood in the first place, because suddenly they’re complaining about noise, they’re talking to zoning. Suddenly the atmosphere shifts. Sometimes we get the kids in here causing a ruckus, sometimes a live act brings them back, but this place is a ghost ship now.”

“That’s too bad.” Let it ease in slow, too soon for cotton padding.

“So how do you know Sarah?”

I tried to catch her eye, but Esprit blocked me. “Oh, we go way back.”

“She shouldn’t have been hiding you.”

“Well, the girl’s just full of dirty secrets.” I tipped my glass to her, as her eyes slid beneath the hat’s shadow, and tried not to smile too much. She was behind me, then, and I heard a familiar song.

“Are you done?”

“Just getting started.”


Sense memory betrays, remembers the small of her back, the curve of her arm. I could smell the fruit through the vodka; and something else redolent of bare feet running through sand, the snap of an illegal fire that bore a hole in midnight. She spoke into the nape of my neck. “You know, I can recall when you spent all your time and energy trying to ‘save’ me, rather than… whatever it is we’ve been doing all day.”

“I get the impression—“ A slow spin, purple canvas arching at the toes. “That you don’t particularly need saving.”
“Shouldn’t that make it easier?” She was softer than she’d ever been, but something beneath sang like struck steel. When we tried to crush each other in volume that morning, raw throats gagging in the exhaust of a theater parking lot, that was the first time I could see something down beneath her glass sculpture; clawing outward, or just getting warmer, for maybe the glass was ice after all, and the years had melted away what she didn’t need. “We’re both survivors now, in a way.”

“Yeah, but half of what we survived was each other.” She never used to let me lead, let me chafe under tradition and half-hearted masculinity. How much sadder for her to trust me now, dipping low, relying on a part of myself caked in dust and regret to remember the steps. “The problem with the White Knight Syndrome, Piper, is that the rescuer forgets to rescue himself. And eventually, that’s going to be all he’s capable of, or all he’ll bother with. Suitably narcissistic for you?”

“A little… but that’s who you are.” The graze of her chipped nails, catching where I’d missed with the razor. “I’m not saying it’s your most admirable trait, but I think I’m used to it now.”

“Flattering.” I held up one finger for Esprit, who had the glass in hand already.


Home again, and laughing. And then quiet.

Piper’s eyes rose to a small porcelain apple atop her fridge. “I have herb. You wanna smoke herb?”

I shrugged. “I guess if you want to.” And she shrugged in return.

“Guess I shouldn’t waste it if we’re not really in the mood.” This exchange had something to the air. She giggled a little, or some approximation thereof. We were by the window, my smoke curling around hers to the rhythm of the neon’s buzzing.

“I’m… kinda tired, actually.” I pressed my laptop closed, its soft light flattening to a line and then gone.

“Yeah.” Sometimes walking alone in the dark, I would see her, and she would say my name in that tone, but she would never continue. “Yeah, me too.” When women clear their throats, it’s a sonar ping. When men do, it’s a garbage truck. “So.”

“So.” And we stood there, she was placed at some crux, equidistant from couch and bedroom; my tongue vacuum-sealed against the throat and clicked, and the light of the moon split across her face, vectors in time and space splitting my footstep; and I stepped, as the world erupted on either side, new lands and lives shifting and replacing, and my choices were both occurring until I opened my eyes. I remembered the first words I’d clicked out with a pen crunched in the middle, watching lost as the skies opened outwards, star’s glitter dancing on black velvet as it draped, and the hands that found each other and let go.