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Drakkar (A Noir)

“Darling Jesse,” she says—her voice is a bassoonist playing in the back of a concert hall—and then she ashes her cigarette into a waiting urinal.  The wide brim of her sun hat and her five-o-clock shadow obscure her face, but I recognize the mole on her right bicep just below the hem of her puff sleeve. “Where’ve you been, lamb?”

Sleeping on dusty couches in basements. Imagining us on Jerry Springer: me with a chair raised above my head, you appealing to the audience, the cameras. “Around.”

The neon light from the Pabst Blue Ribbon sign in the window makes the sweat in the air glow cobalt blue, and the smell of stale cologne mixes with the smell of urinal cakes. Every kind of Lycra shirt slides by us on their way to the urinal or to hide behind a stall door, but my eyes stay on her mole.

“Mm hmm,” she says and blows smoke into my face. “You could have come by anytime. I don’t hold grudges.”

You stole money from me.”

“Borrowed. I borrowed money from you. I told you about it, didn’t I? You did get my IOU, yes?”

Yes. She’d only written four words to justify taking $1,000: MISS VEE HAS NEEDS. The block capital letters had reminded me of her past life as an architecture student.

“That was no IOU. That was a cry for attention.” The DJ punctuates my words with techno breakbeats.

“Maybe.” She slips the cigarette back between her lips. “Or maybe it was charity.” The beat of a Chemical Brothers song fades and a man’s voice rings through the building. Vee’s show was about to start.

“Right. Stealing money from me was an act of charity.”

“That’s right, lamb, because we both know you weren’t saving that money up to hand off to the nuns.”

“Still. You didn’t have to take my money and kick me out.”

She reaches an acrylic fingernail out to touch my collar bone, and drops her voice low. “You’re welcome back in my hive anytime you’re ready to follow the Queen Bee.”

The MC’s voice echoes down the hallway. “And now let’s welcome Miss Veronique Ahhhhhh to the stage.” The crowd roars. I hear the sizzle of embers hitting the water in the toilet bowl before she glides down the hallway to stand in a waiting spotlight.

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Red Dot

“What did your father say?” my mother whispers.

I watch her gaze flit from my eyes to the painting of a peacock on the wall and back to a spot just left of my nose. Her drink is crooked in the hand that isn’t clutching me. I look past her cashmere shoulder to my sister’s television in the corner. Brian Williams is confidently addressing the almost empty room completely unaware that he is muted. The acrylic nails pressing into my wrist are elegantly curled warnings.

In my head: I steer her toward the mirror hanging not two feet away. I use the laser pointer in my pocket to circle the flames of gin in her eyes, the too-young barrette in her hair, and, somehow, the jealousy in her voice. She shakes her head in disbelief. In my head.

“It can wait, Mom.” I whisper back, and then I point toward the dining room. “They’re waiting for us.”

As if on cue my young nephew asks if he can play Red Dot with the cat again before Thanksgiving dinner is served. My sister tells him that he can’t because I have the laser. Where did he go? my nephew whines. To wash up, my sister says even though she knows I am just on the other side of the wall.

“Alex…my Lexy-man, just tell me.” My mother juts her bottom lip out. I know she wants me to take pity on her, but I can’t help thinking of the orangutan I watched on TV late last night who spent the entire episode hunting for grubs in an old banyan tree. 

I shave both words to a point before I speak. “You’re drunk.” 

“I’m not. This is my first. Promise.”

In my head: disbelief. “Ok, then. What the hell.”

My mom brings her hands together to cheer her small victory, forgetting her drink. An olive lanced by a toothpick plops onto my sister’s pristine white carpet. Brian Williams ignores it and continues mouthing words.

“Dad told me that you would try to manipulate me.” I watch her jaw fall slack. “He told me not to be afraid to cut all ties with you until after the hearing.”

She puts her martini glass down on a book shelf and I return to the dining room alone.

light on fence

Fall Away

No one sees the sun the same
some notice shadows     some the glow
floating in between damask curtains
lenses pinpointing the here     now     today
maybe some regard its power as a threat
fretting ultraviolet     infrared     gamma?
mamas mostly     smearing white chemical
wool over the backs of their babies
seizing any chance to capture time but
what their children will do later     wander
     certain days skipping school on beaches
     reserving time in a tanning bed
     red arms blistering after a road trip
flip the safety switches off and
band the mamas who can only watch their all
fall away and hope their children return

 

Constructive feedback—both positive and negative—welcome. I’m posting this early on in my writing process just to get back into posting regularly again. Interested to know your thoughts on the subject of the poem.

nip-point

Nip Point

TW: violence, suggestions of rape

Summary: A woman unwittingly falls into the hands of a killer the moment she walks into work.

Liz saw them as soon as she walked into the reception area of the Chippewa Paper Mill bright orange helmets lined up outside the doors to the machine floor. Each helmet sat atop a pile of meticulously folded clothes.

She immediately recognized a turquoise blouse as Autumn’s. There was Marvin’s helmet with the Red Wings sticker slapped crooked on the front from when they’d won the Stanley Cup back in ‘08. She spotted a pair of khaki pants in another pile with a crease so sharp Liz imagined cutting her finger on it. She guessed they were Derek, the night manager’s. And at the end of the line she saw her husband Ron’s black and red striped polo shirt. Eleven piles of clothes and helmets. One for each person that worked the night shift.

This must be a weird joke, Liz thought. She let out a half-laugh when she realized the joke must be meant for her. They knew she’d be the first one in for the morning shift; she and Ron liked to steal time together before he went home and she began her day.

As Liz walked onto the machine floor, she found work boots blocking her way. Someone had tied their laces together and strung them like a gate between the pulp tanks. She noticed red smears on their heels.

“Ron?” she yelled, and the room returned her voice. She realized that this end of the factory was silent the loud agitators in the pulp tanks, the pulpers, the boilers held their breath; the sprayers crouched overhead mid-pass. Yellow and black signs saying NIP POINT stared out at her from the walls, unblinking reminders of how dangerous the machinery was when the mill was fully active.  

“This isn’t funny, guys.” The echo repeated eyes.

As Liz untied the boots, she felt a presence. Derek was standing behind her, naked, pointing a gun at her head. Liz saw that underneath the pressed creases of the khakis he wore he hid a myriad of tattoos. Bible verses twined around his biceps and thighs, circled his pecs, and fell like vines down his abdomen.

“Hands,” he commanded. Liz stuck hers out and Derek tethered them together. Then he marched her down the aisle past the row of freight elevators. One of the doors was cracked open. Liz saw Marvin, the hockey fan, inside as she walked by. His naked body slumped on the floor; the eyes in his severed head stared back at her from the top of the utility table.

“Why did you come in here?” Derek whispered. “You should have heeded my warnings.”

He walked her into the farthest of the freight elevators and used a piece of rope already hanging from the railing to tie her up. Ron was there, too. In the back. He was naked, gagged, and strapped to a chair. Blood pooled at his feet. Liz could see that the blood came from Ron’s hands; all of his fingernails had been removed.

Liz screamed Ron’s name. She fought hard against the rope that bound her hands. Derek quickly pulled the gag out of Ron’s mouth and forced it into Liz’s. He replaced the gun in his hand with a boxcutter he grabbed from underneath the chair, pinned Liz’s legs to the floor and cut at her clothes as she tried to buck him off. He hummed to himself as he worked. When he had ripped her bra off, he left her alone in the elevator.

After a few moments she heard the low hum of one of the machines starting up. She began to tremble. She knew what these machines did. She imagined being crushed or boiled alive.

Liz snapped her mind into focus. Ok, if I can hold him off the rest of the morning shift should be here any minute. She surveyed her surroundings. There was Ron either passed out or dead in the chair, his blood on the floor, and nothing else. The elevator’s operational buttons shone bright just above her bound hands, but she knew the elevator wouldn’t move unless both the wooden gate and the jaws of the heavy automatic doors were closed. Flinging her legs, she reached toward Ron. When she felt the warmth of his blood on her, she used her body to wet the floor.

“Looks like we’re meeting our Lord and Savior together,” Derek sing-songed as he stepped back into the elevator. He slipped immediately in Ron’s blood and threw his hands out to the walls to steady himself. Liz instinctively tried to block his fall with her arms, but the rope strangled her wrists. When she looked up, she saw Derek’s hairy torso above her. He had become aroused. She focused her gaze on the ceiling.

“Tricky girl,” Derek said with a grin. He righted himself and reached over her head to press the button that closed the automatic doors. A NIP POINT sign stuck to the top door blinked into view. When the elevator started moving, Liz remembered that they were in the broken one. It still moved with the gate up.

They stopped on the second floor. Liz knew there was only equipment and nip points to the open vats of the pulp boilers up here. Derek pressed the button to reopen the doors. She waited a beat and then kicked her legs back, pressing the Close button at the same time. Derek fell forward, his head poking through the still-open doors until they clamped down on his neck. Liz heard a crunch before the doors’ safeguard stopped it from closing.

His naked body was angled over her and his arms and legs kept convulsing, grabbing, stretching. She heard the whirrs and crackles of Derek trying to inhale. It only took a few minutes for his arms to fall limp, resting on bloody hips. All she could do now was wait.

Wind blown.

The Language of Thunderstorms

A crowd gathered on the crumbling pavement of the town square. The Leader stood quite still in its center, her unusual silence commanding our attention. Eventually even the men tilling the fields nearby set down their plows and stepped over rows of freshly planted seeds to hear her proclamation.

The Leader held a curiously stretched oval, like an egg made long by the captive hatchling inside. A thin silver rod protruded out of the oval’s side.

“My family,” she boomed, and the breeze played with the hollyhock blooms wreathed throughout her curly brown hair. “Brother Nielwin”—she acknowledged me with a slight nod—“discovered this artifact from deep within the waste mines. Our foremothers called it a ‘radio.’” She offered the crowd a rare smile with her words, then she turned a knob and the thing began to crackle and moan.

Some men leaning against the ruins of a brick wall covered their ears with their chapped hands. Others whispered of wickedness. A child sitting at the Leader’s bathed and oiled feet reached toward the object.

“What do we hear, dear Leader?”

The Leader’s voice dropped from full to half-mast. “That is the sound of our future, my child.”

“Our future sounds like a storm rolling in,” the girl replied, and the Leader stooped to let her touch the wailing gray thing.

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The Art of Distraction

“SO IS THIS WHAT YOU DO HEREmake Rube Goldberg machines?” Jacob said, after I’d spread string, scissors, plastic cups, and a few small peg boards across the breakroom counter. He was sitting at the table eating a sandwich and fries from a styrofoam box. I watched as his paisley tie dipped into ketchup. That’s how new he was to the pediatrician’s office—no one had told him yet that Medical Assistants could dress business casual.

“Huh? No, I’m the Scribe? The one who inputs the doctor’s notes into the patient database? The job’s kinda tedious, so I started pushing thumbtacks into the corkboard behind my desk and wrapping rubber bands around them two at a time. Set up a little maze down the wall for a marble to travel down. Janet, the Nurse Practitionernot Janet, the Lab Tech—saw it and liked it. She started bringing patients by for demonstrations, and then she asked me to build a machine in here.” Stop rambling. Why do I turn into an idiot whenever a hot guy is around? “I’m Ethan by the way.”

“Hi. I’m Jacob. Your machine sounds cool. Where’d you learn to make them? Did you go to an engineering school or something?”

I answered his question by pulling out my college ID and showing it to him, not remembering the terrible picture on it. Scraggly beard, eyelids half-closed, a questionably-high James Franco smirk. Jacob pulled a matching ID card out of his messenger bag.

“We must have just missed each other on campus,” Jacob said.

After that, a pause filled the room. “When you’re done eating, do you want to see the machines?” I asked. Jacob nodded, mouth full of pastrami.

I took him down the long hallway past the exam rooms to the corner where my desk squatted and showed him the machine. I handed him a silver marble and pointed.

“Drop it on the highest rubber band there,” I explained, and we watched as the marble glided across the vertical maze, and down to where I’d looped the final band around the switch of my desk lamp. The marble clicked against the switch and my light turned on, which also caused Jacob to beam.

“Like I said, I have a lot of free time.” I tried not to notice his long eyelashes or his one crooked tooth; I itched my ear instead. “So, yeah, the kids liked it, and pretty much everyone in the office is looking for new ways to distract patients. It was a hit.”

“I see why.”

Two coworkers came out of the exam room next door and asked me to demonstrate my machine again, after which, one of them, Cindy from Billing, said she wouldn’t mind her own machine. I told her I’d see what I could do.

 

AT LUNCH THE NEXT DAY Jacob ventured down the hallway again carrying a milk crate with about a dozen random objects in it.

“Hey, Ethan, I did a little googling and brought you some supplies.” His elbow brushed my shoulder as he set the crate down on my desk. I could feel heat disperse through the ridges of my ears. “I…If you feel like it, I can help you with Cindy’s machine.”

“That would be great,” I said, avoiding his gaze by inspecting the items in the crate. Some dowel rods, duct tape, a hamster wheel, and… “A blender?”

“I figured if we couldn’t use it, maybe I could make us some margaritas? Not here…I mean, back at my place…but, you know, not like that.”

Not like what? A date? I felt tingling in my feet. “Why don’t we just play it by ear?”

The rest of the work day dragged. When it was finally just Jacob and I, we took out all of the things he’d brought. We decided to make a machine that would unfurl a sign at Cindy’s desk. Jacob started pounding pegs into a pegboard. When I caught myself watching the curve of his bicep contract with each hammer blow, I started tinkering with the blender.

“What’s the plan?” he asked.

I told him what I was thinking: dowel rods and a wedge to guide a marble into the bottom of a flat, paint-stirring stick. The stick would jerk and a string attached at the top of the stick would yank a paper clip free from the sign we’d hang from Cindy’s desk.

“Sounds good, but I wonder if we could incorporate her chair somehow or put something on the floor? I saw a video last night where they wrapped an electric cord around a chair les so when someone pulled it out the machine started.”

“We could, but how long do you want to be here tonight?”

He faced me, a grin triggered a set of dimples. That crooked tooth. I knocked something off the desk and was turning my head to see what it was when I felt something swipe my neck. I smacked at it without thinking, connecting with Jacob’s nose and cheek. He had tried to kiss me.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said. “Are you ok? I was…um, let’s maybe not kiss? At work, I mean, with the security cameras. But definitely again.” I put my hand on his shoulder and winked. I never wink.

“Well, at least we got that awkward first kiss out of the way, right?”

We quickly set up Cindy’s surprise after that. Jake printed out a picture of a cat with a pink party hat over its ears and a wry look.

We tested the machine a few times and started repacking the milk crate with the items we didn’t use. I picked up the blender still sitting on the breakroom table where we’d left it.

“Hey, you still up for some drinks?”

“Absolutely, but we won’t be needing that.” Jake pointed to the blender. “I just needed some way to ask you out.”

To my NYC Midnight friends, this is an edited version of the story I submitted. Group 54—romantic comedy, a pediatrician’s office, a blender.

Excavation

yesterday I gave you my love to mine

quietly you donned an orange lantern hat

leery to discover the lode you’d find

yesterday I gave you my love, to mine

scorpions, alluvium, quartz or brine?

hopefully it’s diamonds reminding us that

yesterday I gave you my love to mine

quietly you donned an orange lantern hat