• Dzama

Girl with Spider

You’re about to do something criminal, aren’t you? Ken said. Liz wasn’t, as far as she was aware, but was pleased to be watched, like you watch a wild animal or a child, for something to happen. In truth she had no control of the dangerous things she did. They just happened. Later, she’d think back and realize what she’d done. Somewhere along the line she’d become aware that many of the things she did were not products of her conscious, reasoning mind. In court or therapy people would ask why she did something and it always seemed like someone else had done it, and that she had no idea why.

She couldn’t remember how long they’d been down here, in these concrete tunnels. An hour? Months? She really couldn’t remember. She’d found she was really good at forgetting. But she could always remember the distant past. Picking corn with her grandfather. Granpa, in his straw hat, spitting tobacco and throwing ears of corn into burlap sacks. She remembered rowing around the narrow, snaking, waterways with her dog Channa. She could recall every dog they’d had, by name: Channa, Stripe, Sushi, Bats, Shadow, Bats 2, Fresco, Carmel. Some animals stayed lodged in her brain way longer than people. Even small animals she’d find in the scrub. And spiders. As a kid there were lots of spiders in her room. Early on, the family had lived in the desert and many of the spiders were white or transparent. She’d named them all. Her favorite was Icy-Legs. After Icy-Legs died, she’d brought the spider’s corpse along with them to Florida. Set it free into the ocean.

 

They’d started walking again. All the tunnels looked the same, all full of moping workers in uniforms who gave them a wide berth as they passed. When they passed inmates, out and about for good behavior, the inmates were required to stop and face the wall until they walked by. I can’t stay in this place forever, Liz said.

 

Now they were driving, Liz at the wheel. Ken was in the seat beside her, face chalk-white, eyes closed. They drove over a hundred miles per hour down a long, straight stretch of highway. Liz listened to the sound of the car’s engine, the sound of the wheels spinning over the asphalt. The highway sounded like a symphony to her. Bass drums. Drum brush. Like a symphony without a melody.

When she pulled into a gas station, Ken’s body flopped forward in his seat. Liz pushed him back and stretched the seatbelt around him. When she was inside the minimart at the counter to pay, she looked back at the car. A police officer was shining a flashlight into the front passenger seat.

Liz found a hiding-spot under some cardboard over by the dumpsters. She lay shivering under the cardboard until dawn, listening to police walkies chattering away.

In the morning she didn’t see her car or the police anywhere. She walked across the parking lot to the restroom. She stared at her own pupils in the scratched bathroom mirror. Soon she saw her thoughts all floating some distance away from her mind, down a river. In her head her thoughts were replaced by an infinite void.

When she exited the bathroom a spider was crawling across the back of her hand. The cops had reappeared and stood before her in a semi-circle, guns drawn. She held up her hand, the spider still moving. It’s bad luck to kill a spider, she said.

The spider came with her all the way to the station. In the holding cell she spoke to the spider. Don’t worry about me, little guy. Really, I won’t remember any of this.

 

 

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Jane’s Back

Jane walked down the hill out of the forest, dry leaves scratching her bare feet. The sky was brown from the smoke of a distant fire. She brushed leaves and thorny twigs off her white skirt and out of her hair, stepping now onto the asphalt of a country road. The first house she came to was dark. She stood and observed it for a long time. A hawk called from the top of a dead tree. Then she walked around to the back. She unhooked a low gate and crossed the wooden deck to a sliding glass door. She stood, staring through her dark silhouetted reflection into the living room. Hearing nothing, she tried the door. It slid open easily.

She entered a shadowy living room. She went up the nearby stairs, listened before taking each step. Eventually she was up in a large bedroom. Eyes straining in the dim light, she went through women’s clothes in a walk-in closet.

By the time she let herself back out onto the back deck it was late evening. She had on a complete change of clothes. She’d gone from a cold and businesslike white to a warmer, more welcoming appearance in earth tones. She carried a hand-purse now too and wore shoes.

As it became night she continued down the road, the rising moon almost red from smoke in the sky.

 

Soon she sat alone in a roadside diner, drinking coffee and eating a slice of apple pie à la mode. Various patrons came and went, some of the truckers ogling her from the counter. The wait-staff eventually ceased to re-fill her coffee.

Now you’re going to pay for it, aren’t you Simon? she said.

A waitress, her face weathered and empty, heard Jane speaking and walked toward her with a coffeepot. Simon, don’t make me angry. Don’t make me angry Simon! Jane continued. When the waitress saw that Jane was talking to an empty seat across the booth she stood and stared. Don’t just stand there, honey, Jane said. The waitress snapped out of it and poured coffee into Jane’s cup. Jane slid over the coffee cup from the setting across from her.

Are you expecting someone? the waitress asked. Jane glared at her until she poured the second cup.

The waitress went back over to the register and whispered to a coworker wearing a lime-green skirt and cat-eye glasses.

Meanwhile, Jane drank her coffee and hissed across the booth at the other seat. Simon, not one of them made it! Not one of them! They’re not going anywhere! All the money’s gone.

 

A policeman came into the diner. How’s it going, Agnes? he asked the first waitress. The policeman was portly with a round, smiling face. He glanced over at Jane. After small-talk with the Agnes, he walked toward the booth where Jane was sitting. Jane got up and walked back in the direction of the restrooms. Miss! Excuse me, Miss! the policeman said but she didn’t turn around, pushing open the door into the ladies room at the other end of the diner. Instead of pursuing her, the cop waited by her seat, staring at the purse on the table but not touching it. Agnes dropped off the plastic tray with the check.

 

After a while the policeman sat down in the booth. More time passed. He stuck his finger in the melted vanilla ice cream on her plate and licked it. Charlie! Agnes said, standing over him with the coffeepot in hand. I figured if I did that she’d come out for sure! he said. He chuckled. Hell, I should eat the rest of her pie!

Marla went back there to check on her, Agnes said.

Aw, don’t freak her out. Besides, I’m looking forward to eating the rest of this!

Shoot, Charlie, I can bring you another one!

No, it won’t taste as good as hers! Charlie chuckled again. He picked up the fork and took a bite. And another. I’m eating your pie, lady! he shouted. If you don’t come out of there soon there won’t be any left!

Jane came out of the bathroom and walked past Agnes and Charlie, not looking at either of them. She walked right out of the diner. Hey! Charlie shouted. He struggled to get up out of the booth. She didn’t pay! said Agnes. She didn’t pay for anything!

Charlie rushed out the door.

Agnes went to the window and saw Jane crossing the parking lot now wearing a lime-green skirt. She even made out cat-eye glasses. Marla! Agnes screeched as her coffee pitcher dropped to the floor and shattered. She ran back to the ladies room. She put all of her weight into pushing the ladies room door open. She screamed when she found Marla’s body.

 

Charlie followed Jane down a steep embankment into a muddy ravine. Stop, police! HEY! STOP! he called after her. Illumination from the streetlights only made it halfway down the slope. He pulled out his Glock with one hand and a police flashlight with the other. You’re not gonna make me pay for that pie, are y—? he said then collapsed face-first into the mud. Jane stood over him, the bloody, broken stick of an umbrella protruding out of his back.

But as Jane stepped over Charlie’s body there was a shotgun blast and she crumpled, blood soaking into her stolen white blouse. Agnes stood silhouetted on the edge of the ravine, shotgun in hand. Jane dropped forward into the scrub, her face now illuminated by the shaft of light from Charlie’s fallen flashlight. Her eyes stared up at the waitress, not blinking.

 

As Agnes waited for more police to arrive she stood and stared down at the two bodies bleeding in the mud. A small dog appeared out of nowhere and ran down the slope, going straight over to Jane. Agnes watched as the dog licked Jane’s face. A female officer arrived and put her hand on Agnes’ shoulder, We’ll take it from here, she said. As two officers continued down into the ravine Agnes stumbled back towards the diner. The sky had begun to lighten, a magenta sun rising up into the smoky atmosphere. Two shots rang out. Agnes stopped for a minute to listen but then it was quiet. She got in her car and started it up. She put it in gear and headed out towards the freeway. As she drove she thought she saw a figure crossing the scrubby field to the east. A small dog trailed the figure, bounding over the rocks and dry grass just to keep up.

Ashes fell from the sky now like snow. Agnes turned up her radio and merged onto the freeway, singing along to songs she recognized and disappearing finally into the massive flow of faceless commuters.

 

 

 

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Jane and Kezzi

Jane woke up.
Jane’s dog Kezzi woke up.
Jane gave Kezzi some food.
Jane gave herself some food.
Jane took Kezzi for a walk down to the dog park.
Jane’s neighbor said, Ooohhh! So cute!
Jane said, Ha, ha, ha! He likes you!
Jane took Kezzi down past the café.
The café patrons said, Did you see that cute dog?
Jane and Kezzi walked past the construction site.
Marty the construction worker looked down at Jane.
Marty made a quick call on his cell phone.
Jane took Kezzi down a side street.
A homeless person waved at Kezzi.
An unmarked police car followed Jane and Kezzi down the alley.
A black and white police car met Jane and Kezzi at the other end of the alley.
A policeman got out and yelled at Jane!
Jane said, I’m only walking my dog, officer.
The policeman from the unmarked car behind her yelled at Jane!

Jane and Kezzi went for a ride with the police.
Jane was in the back of the car.
Kezzi was in the front of the car on officer Stanley’s lap.
Officer Rita turned to officer Stanley and said, He suits you, Stan.
Kezzi licked officer Stanley.
Officer Stanley said, Hey!
The officers brought Jane and Kezzi to the station.
The man in the station said they had to let them go.
The other man in the station said there was not enough evidence.
Jane and Kezzi walked out of the station, free.

Jane and Kezzi stopped at a bodega on the walk home .
The man in the bodega gave Kezzi a bowl of water.
Jane walked Kezzi back past the construction site.
Jane walked Kezzi back past the café.
Jane walked Kezzi back past the dog park.
Jane and Kezzi arrived back home.
Jane and Kezzi saw everything in Jane’s house was turned upside down.
Jane heaved a comfy chair back upright and sat on it.
Kezzi sat on Jane’s lap.
Jane turned on the TV and watched a breaking news story about a big heist.
The news reporter said, The thief is still at large.
Jane winked at Kezzi.
Jane smiled and gave Kezzi some food.
Jane smiled and gave herself some food.
Jane smiled and fell asleep on the comfy chair.
Kezzi fell asleep on Jane’s lap.

The End.

 

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Glad You’re Back

You think that will hold me? Trelle asked. I’d used a tie I had for weddings and bound her wrists, trying to follow from memory a confusing step-by-step guide I’d found online. She still wore her neon stockings and had added electrical tape pasties. But already she was looking away from me, out the window. I went to work on the knot. Oww!

Hold on, I said. I know how to do this. Her eyes glazed over. Her body was still here but that was it. Finally I had the thing loosened and was about to retie it when my phone buzzed. It’s my father, I have to answer it, I said. Trelle shook the tie off and went to get her bag.

So how’s your progress? my father asked.

Progress?

This movie you’re in town to make. The movie about my life.

I’d come out to the city to engage in depravity with Trelle. But my father was remembering a conversation he’d had with my senior brother, now deceased, who had been a movie director. I was the other brother with some knowledge of the movie process so his lapsing memory had combined us. I’d spent my life in my brother’s shadow and didn’t want to correct him.

It occurred to me now that Trelle may have also thought that I was one of my older brothers when she first got my call. When we met for coffee, her face did not immediately register recognition or excitement. There was some confusion there.

Let’s talk in person, I told my father. In the morning.

I may not still be here in the morning.

You’ll be there.

Why don’t you want to make the movie?

I do want to make the movie.

Then where is the actor who is going to play me? Where is the woman who will play my ailing mother in Warsaw? You really haven’t thought these things through.

From across the room Trelle asked, What movie? You’re making a movie? Does he know you’re only a PA?

I was a Second Second, I told Trelle, sotto voce. That’s not a PA, Trelle. Not in Hollywood. Maybe out here they have different rules.

So who is going to play me? my father wanted to know. Answer me that.

We’ll find someone good.

Well, start finding. I don’t have much time. The doctors won’t tell me but I’d say it’s days. A matter of days. Or months. One year at the most. Is that enough for you? I want to be able to go to the theater and see this thing.

I’d like some more input from you first, actually, I said.

I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere. Why didn’t you already ask me these questions? Are you just making the story up on your own? You were never in the Warsaw ghetto.

Listen, I just want one thing from you. A title.

Title for what?

Title for the movie, Dad. That’s always the first step in Hollywood. Tell me the title and I’ll make the movie around that. That’s how everyone does it.

I’ll tell you the title.

Okay. What is it?

Here’s the title: Old Man Asks His Son, His Son Who He’s Never Asked Of Anything In The Past, He Asks Him For A Very Simple Thing, A Thing Within That Son’s Wheelhouse, And The Son Doesn’t Call Or Visit And When He Finally Comes Back To New York It’s Because He’s Here To See Some Girl, Some Floozy, Because That’s All He Cares About: Sex!

I think we need a shorter title.

You think this is funny. It’s my life! My life was not a comedy! My life was a tragedy! It’s a tragedy still!

Did he just call me a floozy? He used the word “floozy”. That is so awesome. Trelle had gotten closer and was listening in. I sensed I might even get a chance to attempt the knot again.

Well, no, I told my Dad. I don’t think this is funny. It’s really important. But in reality I should call you back in the morning. I want my full, uninterrupted attention on this thing.

You don’t really care. I can tell.

I do care. I do care. I don’t know why I’m laughing right now. I’m laughing because I’m nervous. The Holocaust makes me nervous. A lot of things make me nervous and I laugh. I honestly mean no disrespect to anyone.

You’re with her right now, aren’t you?

No.

I’m hanging up now.

Wait!

No waiting. My life was never about waiting. It was a series of tragic events that happened sequentially, with no waiting.

No, Dad, I’m serious, we will make this movie, your movie, but I honestly need to go.

Goodbye, Ephraim.

This is not Ephraim. This is Jack, Dad.

Of course, of course.

I’m Jack, your other son.

When I hung up the phone, Trelle lay on her back and laughed. She laughed and laughed until I got up from the bed. Listen, I gotta go, I said, surprising myself.

Oh, really? Cause I’m a floozy?

No, no, that’s not why.

She watched me get my pants on. When I got to the door she said, You really are a jerk, Jack. Unlike your brothers.

Listen, I need to get some air. I actually want to try to help my Dad out.

When are you going to tell him you’re not a Hollywood director?

He doesn’t want to hear that. I’ll call you after I figure this out.

Don’t.

 

Out in the street I took in the warm light of the setting sun. Throngs of people spewed up from the subway, each appearing to have a purpose and a predetermined trajectory. I felt like I’d been floating around in an eddy just outside the current my whole life.

I pushed through the crowd to go down the steps into the station. I caught an uptown train to go see my Dad with the goal of telling him honestly my whole situation. Just to be there for him, even if he insisted on thinking I was someone else. As the train shuddered through the tunnel I smiled, imagining him opening the door: Ephraim! So glad you’re back!

 

 

 

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On High

The clouds felt rough under his feet and itchy, almost like Mags was walking on fiberglass insulation. He’d had a nosebleed since the day he came up here. People gathered on nearby clouds but he couldn’t hear what they were saying. He still had a ringing in his ears as though he’d just left a loud rock concert. So far he’d kept to himself, occasionally sitting on a cloud and looking through an opening to the Earth below. Now and then the clouds would float low enough and he’d see a girl run from a school bus to her front door, or a barking dog straining at its chain. Other times it would be workers leaving a building site carrying lunch boxes.

You’re not supposed to sit down. Mags looked up to see an older man in a robe. You stand up on your cloud. You spent enough time sitting down on Earth. Now is a time to stand. Mags started to get up then stopped himself. He readjusted his reclined position. I didn’t come up here to be told what to do, he said quietly.

The old man shook his white head and floated away. Mags rolled over onto his stomach and propped his head on his elbows. He stared down at Earth. Moments later he was lifted to his feet by two identical young women in white gowns. You mustn’t lie on the clouds, they said in unison. You are allowed to stand.

Mags shook himself loose from their grasp. The twins stared at him. He went to lie down again but felt a terrific shock. YYYIIIEEEOOOOWW!! One of the women held a kind of ornate cattle prod device. Please take heed, she said. The women floated away. Mags stood on his cloud and glared after them.

He stood there for a long time, still hearing the faint murmur of distant conversations. He imagined everyone to be talking about him. Eventually he moved one foot. Then the other. He frowned. He moved his foot back and then forward again and spun around. He’d been a dance instructor at a middle school down on Earth and this kind of thing came naturally to him. But gravity was different up here and all his moves and jumps were enhanced. He felt like he’d never danced this well before. As he danced he could sense others floating toward him.

No dancing! the twins shouted to him from some distance away. But he couldn’t stop. People in white robes floated toward him from every direction now. He was dancing better than ever- doing splits, popping back up and flying around like a figure skater. The crowd made a wide circle around him. Meanwhile, the twins were on their way back over.

 

Then out of the corner of his eye he noticed motion in the crowd. He noticed a rhythm to their movements that matched his rhythm. Like a Hollywood musical the crowd fell into a trance, mirroring his every move and twirl.

Stop! Stop at once! The twins screeched in unison. There is no dancing! No dancing! You may stand!

Nobody listened. The twins now had their ornate prods out and the prods glowed crimson. They zapped the group, one by one, and each person they zapped fell straight down through the clouds, disappearing below. The crowd thinned but those that remained did not stop dancing. The moves become more and more amazing- acrobatic displays that would have caused a sensation on Earth.

Finally there were four people left, then three, then two, then Mags alone was dancing. When the twins moved in Mags kicked their prods out of their hands with a spectacular acrobatic twirl. They gasped, staring after their lost weapons. Then Mags took the hand of each girl and led them into his dance, pulling them this way and that until they couldn’t help but be overcome by the rhythm. The three danced together until one by one the others rose from the Earth, emerging up through the clouds to join back into the synchronized performance.

The dance continued and didn’t stop, ever.

 

 

 

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